The recent arrival of COVID-19’s omicron variant served as an excellent reminder that the novel coronavirus is a wily pathogen that is quite capable of mutating and frustrating our efforts to bring one of history’s worst pandemics under control.
With community spread up and the risk of infection growing, now is a good time to stock up on essential protective supplies as well as reviewing safety protocols and reconsidering travel and gathering plans. (And, of course, if you haven’t gotten a third vaccine dose, make an appointment now to get that done!)
If you do decide to spend time indoors with people you don’t live with, it will be easier to make an effort to minimize your risk if you have a good set of masks on hand, as well as a stash of at-home COVID-19 tests.
Happily, you can avoid the risk of counterfeit goods and support small businesses right here in the United States if you know where to go. Below are some options for picking up masks, tests, and other PPE if you’d like to be prepared for the next dreary phase of the pandemic, which is likely to last a few more weeks at least.
What masks should I get?
Especially with omicron raging, it’s a good idea to have a stock of KN95 and N95 masks on hand to use as your default face covering. While cloth masks are certainly better than no mask, KN95s and N95s provide more protection, as Stanford infectious diseases doctor Abraar Karan explained to New York Magazine’s Chas Danner in an interview that was published today.
Why should people start using high-filtration masks like N95s and KN95s as their go-to, everyday masks rather than cloth ones?
The key reason is that transmission of the coronavirus is primarily through aerosols, which float around in the air — you inhale them — and are not filtered well by cloth masks. You really need melt-blown polypropylene, which you find in surgical masks and N95s, to stop these small particles.
So the materials used to make these masks make them better equipped to filter out the virus?
Yeah. The material is basically melt-blown polymers, like polypropylene, which form this complex sort of webbing which is then electrostatically charged, and that pulls the particles in when you’re inhaling and exhaling. Cloth masks are often just woven thread and other materials that don’t have that design. Cloth masks don’t provide great source control, either. The CDC is now letting people who test positive for COVID-19 stop isolating after five days and then wear a mask for five days. It would have been ideal for them to also recommend that be a better mask.
How many should you get? Probably at least one for every day of the week. Dr. Karan told Danner that N95s and KN95s can be reused.
How often can you reuse them? Does the electrostatic charge that attracts the particles wear off?
Peter Tsai, the scientist who invented the material used in N95s, has said that you could reuse them for a while and recommended buying seven masks and using a different one each day while letting the others sit out. Exactly how long the charge lasts, I think, really depends on the environmental conditions — humidity and sweat and things like that. But it’s up to the government to figure out how long an average person could use it. I think these are things that the CDC really should have been looking into.
They’ve had a year and a half now. It’s crazy.
How has Omicron, which is clearly the most transmissible variant yet, changed your personal approach to managing your COVID risk, including when you decide to mask up outside of the hospital?
The transmissibility issue is a huge one, and masks are completely tied to that. The chances of catching COVID in transient or fleeting interactions, like being in the grocery store for a few minutes or being face-to-face with somebody for a conversation — I think It’s far more likely that I could get transmission now with this variant than with any others in the past. It changes my risk calculus.
Sadly, fakes are everywhere… the CDC advises that a whopping 60% or so of KN95 respirators in the United States are counterfeit (fake) and do not meet NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) requirements.
What tests should I get?
For testing purposes, you want a viral test, as opposed to an antibody test.
A viral test tells you if you are infected with SARS-CoV‑2, the virus that causes COVID-19. There are two types of viral tests: rapid tests and laboratory tests. Viral tests use samples that come from your nose or mouth. Rapid tests can be performed in minutes and can include antigen and some NAATs. Laboratory tests can take days to complete and include RT-PCR and other types of NAATs.
Some test results may need confirmatory testing.
Self-tests are rapid tests that can be taken at home or anywhere, are easy to use, and produce rapid results. COVID-19 self-tests are one of many risk-reduction measures, along with vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, that protect you and others by reducing the chances of spreading COVID-19.
Having a supply of rapid self-tests at home will enable you to test yourself before you head out the door to a dinner party or movie theater or other gathering.
Most rapid self-tests are of the “antigen” variety, and several companies make them, though they are getting harder to find because the United States hasn’t done a good job of ensuring tests are universally accessible to all.
But if you know where to go online, you can put in an order and have tests at your home in a few days. No need to drive from store to store.
Note that antigen tests are not your only option for testing at home.
There are a couple of rapid self-testing systems now on the market of the molecular type, which are more accurate than the antigen type.
Cue’s system isn’t cheap. It’s $474 for a reader and three tests (the reader and tests are each over $200 each). Detect’s tests, on the other hand, go for $50 each and require a reader (called a hub) that costs just $39. As of press time, Cue had inventory for sale, while Detect did not. (You can sign up on Detect’s website to be notified when additional units are made available for purchase.)
If you can afford a Cue or Detect system, having one handy will give you a means of performing confirmatory testing without having to go anywhere.
Molecular at home tests aren’t cheap, so it’s logical to save them for use in following up on a positive antigen test or testing again for COVID-19 if you have symptoms but got a negative result from an antigen test.
Now, here’s where you can stock up on masks and antigen tests.
These are all non-Amazon and non-eBay recommendations. Our advice is to buy straight from the manufacturer or authorized distributor, as it’ll ensure you’re not wasting your money and will get products that are genuine, meaning NIOSH or FDA approved. These firms all have their own storefronts, many powered by Shopify, that make checking out straightforward and relatively painless. Many have promotional discounts available. Check RetailMeNot and Honey before completing your purchase to see if there’s a discount available to you.
DemeTECH is known for its innovative wound closure medical devices such as surgical sutures and hernia mesh, DemeTECH ramped up production of American-made surgical masks and expanded to produce N95 respirators when the COVID-19 crisis first struck.
Called DemeMASK, the collection utilizes only the highest grade American-made raw materials.
In fact, all aspects of the operation are USA-based, from the fabric to the packaging and extending to the machinery used in the factory. This domestic production reduces dependency on obtaining PPE from foreign countries and companies, which was a big issue when the virus first spread in the United States and PPE were nearly impossible for medical staff and consumers to find.
Last February, The New York Times profiled DemeTech for an article that discussed the paradox of small, U.S. based firms struggling to find buyers despite a huge demand for quality masks. Buying directly from a manufacturer like DemeTech is a win-win: you’ll get good masks and help them stay in business.
We woke up one day and realized that enough was enough. We had to do something about the price gouging and quality of the products, especially for our first responders, essential workers and you, our customer. Our family pulled in all our resources, connections and decades worth of experience in overseas manufacturing to bring more PPE to the market at the competitive prices with low minimum order quantities for all customers around the world.
Our promise to our customers is that we will always be honest and transparent with what we’re selling, where it’s made, what certifications we have and if it’s the right product for them.
We are not motivated by greed, we are motivated by saving lives.
We care about you.
Bona Fide Masks
In 1938, our great-grandfather and grandfather started Ball Chain Mfg. Co., Inc. in the garage behind their house in the Bronx, New York. We have a history of helping our in times of need.
In World War II, our newly-formed company manufactured parts for the Thunderbolt fighter plane.
In 2020, at the request of a local community leader, we formed Bona Fide Masks® to help address the shortage of PPE.
As 4th generation family owned and operated business, our mission is to bring authentic masks to everyone! We are a trusted U.S. military manufacturer that cares so much about our customers. We are proud that Bona Fide Masks™ is now the EXCLUSIVE distributor of Powecom ® products in the U.S. and Canada.
They sell masks and other PPE, but not COVID-19 tests.
Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for individuals of all ages to take a more active role in managing their health. We do this by designing and manufacturing innovative, consumer-friendly, mobile personal healthcare products that connect to the cloud.
iHealth products are easy to use, making it simple for consumers to accurately measure, track, and share a full range of health vitals.
By automatically connecting the data through the cloud, consumers are able to see a more comprehensive view of their vitals and easily share information with healthcare professionals or loved ones.
Stay safe and be well this New Year!