As schools require N95 masks, consumers have to figure out if masks selling online are fake

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The alarming spread of omicron increased the urgency to get N95 and similar masks. At least one local school is even mandating them for its students -- But many consumers may unknowingly have purchased counterfeit masks.

Photo after photo of fake N95 masks can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

The amount of fakes out there are rampant. Yet, they remain a hot seller because N95 and the very similar KN95 masks, when legitimate, block out 95% of airborne particles.

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"Right now, with how contagious omicron is or any indoor setting, wearing an N95 mask is going to give people the optimal protection, even in the school setting," said Dr. Alok Patel, special correspondent for ABC7 News.

On Monday, the Oakland School of the Arts announced an emergency closure the rest of the week caused by what the principal described as a high surge of coronavirus cases. According to an email to parents, when students return on January 18, they will be required to wear N95 or KN95 masks.

Other districts are strongly recommending the use of those masks by both teachers and students.

That may prove difficult for some families as many retailers are sold out.

Some have turned to online third party sellers to purchase their masks.

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KN95 masks made in China are particularly worrisome.

"Some estimates actually say that 60 to 70% of KN95s sold online are actually counterfeits," said Dr. Patel.

N95 masks are made to be worn snugly over your face to maximize their effectiveness.

Many prefer KN95 masks because they are considered more comfortable to wear.

Dr. Patel says because they are manufactured outside the United States, they are harder to vet.

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To make sure you're not wearing a counterfeit, go to the CDC website where there is a list of government-approved N95 and KN95 masks.

If you discover you bought a fake, should you throw it out?

Dr. Patel says not so fast. "It's still safe to wear it. It's still going to give you some level of protection, but it may not give you the level of protection that indicated by the product. There are a lot of counterfeits out there."

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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