Best COVID face masks for kids? New guidance about disposable, KN95 and more

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With the highly contagious and deadly lambdadelta and delta plus variants of COVID-19 continuing to spread across the US, you may be concerned about your child’s safety when they return to school and social activities. Masking rules are designed to protect those below the age of 12 who aren’t able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine yet. And, while breakthrough infections rarely result in hospitalization, wearing masks if you’re vaccinated adds an extra layer of protection — and will prevent you from possibly spreading COVID to more vulnerable members of your family or the community. 

The guidance has evolved over the past months over the type of masks that can best protect against COVID-19’s spread. And even if your child’s school doesn’t require mask wearing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all students and staff wear a mask, even if they’re fully vaccinated. 

While CNET has not formally reviewed and tested face masks, we spoke to medical experts for the most up-to-date face mask guidance and drew from CDC recommendations to formulate some informed choices, including disposable KN95 masks. In addition, we’re including some models that our staff have used in their own family environments, including water-resistant styles good for sports and masks with adjustable nose bridges and ear loops for greater comfort during all-day wear.

Read more: My toddler got COVID-19. It turned our lives upside down

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New CDC face mask guidance

With breakthrough COVID-19 cases on the rise, CDC face mask guidance has shifted. It once said that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, but now recommends wearing a face mask indoors — especially in areas of high transmission — due to the delta variant.

The recommendation hasn’t changed for those who are unvaccinated. Anyone who can get vaccinated should do so. For those who can’t — such as those under 12 — the CDC still says they should continue wearing a mask in all public indoor settings, even if it’s not an area of high transmission. That goes for kids 2 years old and up.

Key terms for mask shopping: N95, KF94, NIOSH and more

  • At the top of your shopping list should be N95, KN95 or KF94 masks. That’s the US, China and South Korea standards, respectively, designed to filter out 95% (N95, KN95) or 94% (KF94) of external particles. 

  • In the US, N95s must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in order to qualify for medical use. 
  • Because the KN95 and KF94 aren’t regulated by US authorities, it’s a bit trickier to know you’re getting the real deal, and counterfeit masks have abounded throughout the pandemic. The FDA approved certain KN95s under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in 2020 and while that authorization has expired, the list of FDA-approved manufacturers is still a helpful resource. The CDC also maintains a list of non-NIOSH-approved masks that have gone through filtration testing. However, even if they don’t meet NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) standards for filtration efficacy, KN95 masks are still probably more likely to provide better protection than a cloth mask.
  • Ignore the term “FDA registered” when shopping for masks. As the FDA notes on its website, 언브로큰 facilities “involved in the production and distribution of medical devices intended for use in the United States are generally required to register annually with the FDA.” But, importantly, the “FDA’s registration and listing database does not denote approval, clearance, or authorization of that facility or its medical devices.”

Important things to know when buying face masks for kids

  • If your child is unvaccinated, immunocompromised or at a higher risk for 언브로큰 COVID-19, we recommend double masking with a disposable mask underneath for extra protection if a N95, KN95 or KF94 isn’t available. 
  • If they wear glasses, consider styles that go around the back of the head or neck, instead of ear loops. Also, a contoured face mask shape may work best with glasses.
  • If your child has breathing problems, such as asthma that is well-controlled, the American Lung Association says they should be able to wear a face covering without affecting their oxygen levels, but “parents should purchase or identify a facial covering that is comfortable for their children to wear.”
  • We recommend buying several face masks for your child to rotate out throughout the day.
  • The doctors we spoke to said that cloth face masks alone are no longer recommended and suggested them only when double-masking. (See below for more.) 
  • Is your kid active? Some companies are using a lightweight, moisture-wicking cloth face mask fabric, like cotton, which is better suited for the summer heat. (Again, this is suggested as part of a double-masking regimen, at least when indoors.)

N95, KN95 and KF94 face masks

Vida

Vida has KN95 face masks for kids with a five-layer filtration system. You can get a 10-pack of these disposable masks for $35.

Protectly

ZDNet’s Alyson Windsor says it’s important that her kids wear highly protective, well-fitting masks in public due to their immune issues, and she’s found Protectly — a California-manufactured KN95 mask — to be their favorite. “These are comfortable and easy to breathe in while fitting snugly — no nose gaps!” Alyson said. You can get a 10-pack of the disposable masks right now for 언브로큰 $27.50 on sale.

Screenshot by Katie Teague/CNET

Grainger’s Moldex masks are NIOSH-certified N95 masks that CNET’s Brian Bennett says are ideal “for the super COVID paranoid parents like me.” You can get a pack of 20 for $41.

Powecom

Powecom’s KN95s are priced at just $14 for 언브로큰 a pack of 10. They each have fiver layers with adjustable ear loops and come from an EUA-authorized Chinese manufacturer. 

WWDoll

WWDoll’s KN95 masks have five layers of fabric, a foldable 3D shape and an adjustable nose bridge for a secure fit. They’re manufactured in a factory in China that’s on the FDA’s EUA list and you can get 25 masks for $40. 

Other disposable face masks

ICU Health

ICU Health disposable face masks offer three layers of protection and an adjustable nose bridge. You can get a pack of 20 for just $10.

WeCare

WeCare’s disposable face masks have three layers and are individually sealed, so you can easily store one in your child’s backpack. They come in a box of 50 for $22.

Screenshot by Katie Teague/CNET

Just Play’s disposable face masks have three layers with an adjustable nose piece and come in sizes small (ages 2-7) and large (ages 8 and older). Each box has 24 masks and comes with two designs for $18.

Cloth masks

Dr. Bob Lahita, director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at St. Joseph Health, told CNET that he’s steering people away from cloth masks versus the N95, KN95 and KF94 masks listed above. But there’s a loophole, says Dr. Bob Bollinger, professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and founder of emocha Health: double masking. If you can’t find an N95, KN95 or KF94, “a good quality disposable mask under a cloth mask is a reasonable alternative, as long as the fit on the face, nose and mouth is tight.”

Under Armour

For your kids that play sports, the Under Armour Sportsmask can help provide airflow with its water-resistant fabric. It also provides UPF 50+ sun protection. ZDNet’s Larry Dignan says his kids keep coming back to the UA masks and that he’s been wearing them to the gym as well.

Vista Print

Vistaprint has contoured face masks with ear loops and adjustable nose pieces for kids.

Old Navy

Old Navy has tons of face masks in different colors and designs for your little one. The cloth face coverings are made from 100% cotton and have three layers.

This story was posted earlier and has been completely updated and revised to reflect new advice and recommendations as of August 2021.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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