SARS CoV2 aka COVID-19: Masks (particulate respirators) might be Counterfeit, CDC Data Only Adds to the Confusion
I recommended buying quality masks back on January 29 (and for some years before for other reasons).
Numerous news articles note the rejection of test kits and protective gear from China by various governments, suggesting that there is a lot of low quality and counterfeit product out there.
How can any of us know that the masks we might buy are not counterfeit for starters, and that they work as claimed?
Based on years of personal use of high-quality 3M N95 and N100 particulate respirators and knowing the care required to fit them properly with head straps, my view is that ear-loop designs (e.g., KN95) are difficult if not impossible to fit properly (seal).
In general, ALL ear-loop designs should be a last resort, because they cannot be fit properly even with care—there is just no way to achieve the tension required to seal the mask against the face.
Still, with some care in at least trying to seal the mask against the face, KN95 masks are probably better than home-made masks or half-assed approaches like a bandana. Unless the mask just is the wrong size (very common), in which case it serves mainly to protect others (your own coughing/breathing), not to filter the air for your own protection. Others gain, you lose.
Note that images you see in the media (including world leaders!) almost always show improper fit of masks, which leads to major leakage which means 0% filtration efficacy of all air leaking in or out. Every time I enter a store and observe people, I see the vast majority of masks improperly fitted.
A long list of test reports on mask filtration efficacy is available at the CDC. These results assume proper sealing, which is frequently not the case.
Problem is, even the CDC results cannot distinguish real from counterfeit products and so the test results shown there might or might not apply, since the masks might be counterfeit. In other words, the CDC is just adding to the confusion, testing masks of unknown and unverified origin. Total GIGO other than proving that there is a lot of junk and/or counterfeit stuff out there.
NIOSH has been informed that many legitimate manufacturers in China have been counterfeited. In such cases, NIOSH has no way of verifying which products are counterfeit and which are authentic.
While the manufacturer listed in the table is shown as the manufacturer of the product evaluated, NIOSH has been informed that some of these are actually counterfeit products. Some products with legitimate manufacturer names, showing poor filter penetration results (<95%), are counterfeit products. A number of manufacturers have also informed NIOSH that they did not produce the products associated with their name.
Currently, there are no NIOSH-approved products with ear loops; NIOSH-approved N95s have head bands. Furthermore, limited assessment of ear loop designs indicate difficulty achieving a proper fit. While filter efficiency shows how well the filter media performs, users must ensure a proper fit is achieved.
If you cannot fit a mask properly, and it might be counterfeit and you have no way of knowing, where do we go from here?
Buyer beware, but how? In a health situation, this is not just about losing money on fraudulent product, but about your health and maybe even your life itself. And who knows what states have been buying and supplying to health care workers at huge risk?