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How to avoid buying fake KN95 masks

With the omicron variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreading across the country, it’s important to make sure the mask you buy is exactly what it claims to be.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus now makes up 98.3% of new COVID-19 cases in the United States, and because of that rapid spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to soon issue new mask guidance.

Given the highly contagious nature of the variant, higher quality masks with a tighter fit than cloth or surgical options may be in order, like the popular KN95 and N95, which claim to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles.

NBC News correspondent Tom Costello warned TODAY viewers Wednesday morning that it’s important to “do your homework" and make sure you know what you're really buying.

Coronavirus - Certification and testing process of FFP2 masks
A KN95 mask is mounted on a mask test stand in a laboratory. Fabian Strauch / picture alliance via Getty Images

According to the CDC, about 60% of masks labeled as KN95, the Chinese version of the high-filtration masks, are actually counterfeit.

The organization shared the following advice to keep in mind when considering buying international respirators: "... More rigid evaluation measures should be considered to determine whether a product conforms to standards. This should include validating that the product you intend to purchase was tested by an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited test laboratory in the country that holds the standard."

So how do you avoid getting duped?

Costello recommended looking for N95 masks.

Hospitals Stock Up On PPE
N95 mask should have a label that says "NIOSH."Jonathan Wiggs / Boston Globe via Getty Images

The reason to consider going with these American-made masks is that there’s a way to ensure what you’re getting.

“So when buying an N95 ... look for the stamp that says, ‘NIOSH,’” Costello advised.

Circled in red is the "NIOSH" label to look out for when purchasing N95 masks.
Circled in red is the "NIOSH" label to look out for when purchasing N95 masks.Rehabmart

NIOSH stands for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and it’s the certifying federal entity for a variety of masks and respirators, including the N95.

However, if you spot the NIOSH approval on a KN95 masks, that’s a red flag.

“(The) CDC, through NIOSH, does not approve KN95 masks or any other respiratory protective device certified to international standards,” according to a CDC notice about counterfeits.

Related: How to spot — and avoid — fake COVID-19 tests

Is there an easy way to find authentic masks?

Costello recommended, a website that links to certified and vetted masks.

"You’ve got to do your homework to make sure you get something that’s vetted and certified," he stressed.