New guidelines have emphasized the importance of fit, design, performance, and testing requirements in all face masks. These firm standards separate myths from facts and will allow Americans to buy face masks that are properly packaged, have undergone stringent testing, and have a permanent tag on the product. 

These coupled with guidelines released by ASTM, an international standards organization will increase customer confidence and satisfaction with masks in the face of rising Covid-19 infections. If ever we needed confidence in a product, it is this product and it is now. But what exactly should you be looking for in an effective face mask? We break it down.

For starters, only purchase a consumer mask if it has an ASTM label on the packaging. This label signals that the face-covering has met testing and quality requirements of breathability and filtration efficiency. Note that these standards do not apply to medical masks.

Second, check the certification on the ASTM label. A level one certification allows the mask to filter out only 20 percent of particles but will be easier to breathe through. A level two certification has a high-performance filtration that blocks 50 percent of particles, but it provides less breathability. As a consumer, buy both and use them where necessary. If you’re going out for a run and don’t expect to bump up against crowds, you can choose a mask with a level one designation. However, if you know you might run into a crowd of people, then use the mask with a level two certification. 

Masks that meet international standards of quality are already getting support from the current administration, with President Biden’s coronavirus advisers calling on the CDC and other bodies to adopt the ASTM standard for the general public as well as ramp up production. There may well be a time shortly when masks cannot be sold without the ASTM label. Till then, a variety of cloth masks that have poor filtration fabrics are on the market. If you buy one of these, pay attention to fit and wear it over a surgical mask to maximize protection.