I can't find a Pandemic-era thread on masks and respirators so I thought I'd start this one.
I don't know how things were in the US, but here in the UK it was almost impossible to buy a N95 (FFP2, in Euro-speak) or better disposable respirator ("mask") between March and September last year. (Supplies are a little better now but prices are up a lot on 2019.) It was clear that masks were going to be required and I wasn't entirely convinced that home-made cloth ones, or basic medical-style ones, were a long-term best-case solution. I found myself turning to Aliexpress, where there were a huge range of styles available.
For personal comfort reasons I wanted masks with head loops, not ear loops, which reduced choice considerably. I chose the snappily-named "Powecom 9502 FFP2 HR particle filtering half mask" based on their claimed 3rd-party certification to the rlevant Euro standards for these things. I ordered a batch of 20 then, and have since ordered two more batches (including a batch I had delivered to my elderly and vulnerable parents).
I was always a little doubtful about the performance of these masks; there have been plenty of horror stories of counterfeit PPE. Recently, though, I discovered that NIOSH in the US has been doing market surveillance of non-NIOSH masks from the international market and has been publishing the results on-line. Mostly these are tests of Chinese-specification KN95 masks; my understanding is that the Chinese spec allows manufacturers to self-certify, unlike eg. NIOSH and the European standards that require third-party testing and accreditation.
You can find all the reports here:
https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/respira ... sults.html
NIOSH have tested samples of a huge number of masks from a range of suppliers. Among them is my Powecom mask (results here) and it did remarkably well, with every mask from the batch tested having 99%+ filtration efficiency.
If anyone else has been buying, or using, oddball brands of mask from unknown manufacturers you might well find they have been tested and they appear somewhere in NIOSH's lists.
(If anyone is interested, the Powecom masks were about $1.50 each, including delivery, in early 2020 but are closer to $1 each now.)
This isn't going away anytime soon folks and with all the new variants of COVID-19 popping up it just made sense to drop COVID-19 from the sub-section name and consolidate all the pandemic stuff in one location.
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