Mask up! With variants, Covid and RSV, masks oh my!

** Update November 2022

It’s coming up on three years of this crap. Thanks to the uneven distribution of vaccines, horrendous public health messaging and fatigue, it’s as bad as ever out there. Masks are just as important as they ever were. We have kids ICU’s overrun, and a government pretending we can just move on. Public health refuses to go against the government’s “back to normal” messaging and is doing nothing. 

Masks work best when everyone wears one but now, it’s more important than ever to wear the best quality you can find.
For crowded transit, air travel, concerts etc, I now wear an N95 with head straps. I save my KF94s for less crowded indoor environments or outdoors when needed.
My favourite N952 are:

3M Vflex  Looks kind of crazy but is the most breathable of all the ones I have tried and has a tight fit

3M Aura more traditional style that fits smaller faces well

Vitacore N99 a Canadian made NIOSH respirator

All masks aren’t created equally

Up until now, as long as you had a decent covering over your face, you were doing pretty well. But, after letting this virus run wild for over a year, it is doing what viruses do and it’s mutating all over the place. Sometimes, variants will make it weaker or less transmissible and other times, it will make the virus much more contagious and/or more deadly.

When that happens, we need to start wearing better protection. Yes, in the absence of a really great mask, you can double mask or you can make an elastic band hack to give a good surgical mask a better fit like this. It’s so much better to just have a really good mask in the first place.

Other countries, like South Korea and China, have been supplying their citizens with high-grade KN95 or Kf94 masks the whole time, while the rest of the world has been telling us to wrap a t-shirt around our heads. Germany, France and Austria are considering mandating  FFP (filtering face piece)  masks worn in stores and on public transit. That means it’s N95s, KN95s or KF94s for everyone.

Since December, southern Germany has made these masks available at pharmacies, free of charge, to seniors and high-risk citizens. They currently plan to distribute them to those who can’t afford them. Actually, I think that as of this date, Germany has officially mandated this new policy.

So, where does that leave us?

We are told we should not wear N95s because medical workers need them. There is no effort to make sure we have access to high-quality KN95s (Chinese Standard) or KF94s (South Korean Standard). The basic difference between an N95 and a KN95 or Kf94 is the ear loops. Even if the filtration is equal, if a mask has ear loops it cannot be called an N95 as the two head straps on an N95 ensure a tighter fit.

Okay, but then we are warned that many KN95s from China are counterfeit and we can check on Health Canada’s website. Sure, if we want to spend hours pulling our hair out trying to navigate them to see if the mask we are trying to buy is the real deal or not.

There are no links to sites where Canadians can order approved masks. There’s just a convoluted list of approved masks with their manufacturers. In the end,  you have to try to go out and find them yourself.

Basically, Canadians are left to their own devices to try to find high-quality masks. It’s like it’s some kind of game of Covid Survivor.

*I am updating you to let you know that this is no longer true!

Canada Strong Masks are Canadian-made, high-quality CN95 masks. Five-layer, Kf94 style boat construction, these masks share their test results on the website. You can see that they exceed the NIOSH and Health Canada N95 requirements in every way.

The only reason these styles of respirators cannot be NIOSH-approved is the ear loops. To be an N95, a respirator must use two head straps.  That can be replicated with the use of ear savers or some other kind of clip. Pulling those earloops snugly provides an even tighter seal and saves your ears.
At $12.95 for 5 masks, they are a bit cheaper than GoodManner. If you splurge on a case of 100 (go in with friends) the cost comes down to a very reasonable $1.64 per mask.

masks, mask
Shipping options start at regular Canada Post and go all the way up to overnight shipping and many people say they can fit smaller faces and kids as young as 12.

In the meantime, I have been following my mask North Star and Youtube Mask Stud, Aaron Collins

Look at the stats on those KF94s!

He is a mechanical engineer who wrote his Master’s thesis on the science of aerosols. He spent years building instruments to count and describe these tiny particles. Collins is on a one-man mission to educate the public as he shares the wonder of the Korean Kf9f4. KF94s are guaranteed to filter, at minimum, 94% of particles. In reality, it seems like almost all of the Korean masks are closer to 97% to over 99%.

He has also tested them by wearing them for up to 40 hrs and they lose almost none of their filtration. If you are wearing them in a clean environment, like an office, he recommends that you rotate three of them so that each mask gets a few days of non-wear to be safe. This will ensure there is no chance of live virus contamination. Just make sure to store them in the open sleeve they came in or a paper bag. This way, they can breathe without any condensation.

He talks about the effectiveness of various masks, how to get a good fit, and how to care for them. Gives links to where to buy them and recommends his favourites for different sizes of faces.

“That’s what I do. I look for ways to spread the gospel of KF94s like I’m a Johnny Appleseed of protective face masks,” he said, referring to a type of mask made in South Korea.

He set up an aerosol lab in his bathroom and he tests an array of KF94s as well as some KN95s. He shares the results and provides helpful links so that you can buy them. Sadly, his favourite online store charges a ton to ship to Canada 

If you don’t want to watch the videos, he also includes the time signatures for the highlights.  Skip straight to the good parts and lists with clickable links to the masks he tests and recommends. Be wary of Amazon though. If you do go that route ensure the mask is coming from a verified distributor or straight from the manufacturer. 

masks, mask

**Updating a third time- you can now order these through a Canadian distributor! Mask Depot has the Mask Lab masks

*Updating again because I just got my shipment of printed Kf94-style respirators. They can’t be called a Kf94 as this is a South Korean designation and these are made in Hong Kong.  These are not only gorgeous, but they are level three, FFP2 masks. Aaron has tested them and they are now on his list of top picks.

He has found them to fit right in at the about 98% filtration level, just like most of the other Kf94s. They are light and really breathable, they fit my smaller face and they are gorgeous, to boot. I also got their ear loop adjustors to tighten the fit and they work like a charm. MaskLab Hong Kong

Mask Depot mixes safety with style

Like the other Kf94’s, these are safe for at least 40 hours of wear in a clean environment.

One of the best options for Canadians is Goodmanner Masks

Good Manner is Health Canada approved Kf94 masks being imported from South Korea and sold by a Toronto distributor. Now you can opt for free shipping via Canada Post. These are also an excellent choice but they do fit a bit on the smaller side. It fits me really well and it fits my adult son.

My big-headed husband finds it a bit small and, for him, I think the BOTN is going to be a better choice. Order a pack of five for $18.97 first and make sure they fit and then you can get more. It’s a great mask and the easiest to come by since it’s distributed out of a Toronto location.

The price per mask comes down if you order a larger bundle and you have the option of free shipping. Their customer service is excellent and I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are very responsive if you contact them through their Facebook page.

Other places to find them

There are US sites to buy Kf94s and if you can find a great sale, it is still worth the exchange and any duty. I waited til Black Friday to order 100 large black BOTN masks from behealthyusa. They are usually close to $4 per mask and I got 100 for $100 USD. After shipping and duty, it came to $200 CDN
and as of today, Dec 16, 2021, that sale is still on. Basically, you can’t go wrong with a Kf94.

Like it or not, masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future and we need to do better, especially since it looks like the average Canadian will be lucky to get a vaccine by the end of 2021 at the rate we are going. To be honest, I will likely wear a mask during flu season and when I am travelling for the rest of my life because they work.

Flu is almost non-existent this year because of all of the covid mitigations and so if there is a silver lining to any of this, we have gained some tools to keep ourselves healthier going forward.

If you have any recommendations you want to share, please comment and I will update the post as I come across any other good resources.