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The coronavirus pandemic is looking vastly different than it was two years ago when it all began. Mask mandates have been lifted across many states, schools, indoor public areas, workplaces and more. Health experts are cautiously optimistic that the U.S. could soon shift to an “endemic phase” of the pandemic.
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At the same time, cases are rising again in Europe and there’s even a new variant in circulation called “deltacron.” Though experts say it’s too early to be worried about the latest variant, the omicron variant is still in circulation and is easily transmissible. It’s understandable that many would want to proceed with caution and continue to use safety measures while navigating the world as it opens back up again, especially when it comes to their child’s safety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people use their community's COVID-19 risk level to guide mask usage. What’s more, masks are still required on public transportation like planes, trains and buses, so don’t throw away those masks just yet.
In fact, it's time to upgrade your face masks as more experts are cautioning against the use of cloth masks. Instead, they are recommending people upgrade to three-ply surgical masks, N95, KN95 or KF94 masks, which offer more protection against the highly contagious omicron variant.
Richard Malley, senior physician at Boston Children’s Hospital Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, is one of the experts making the recommendation to upgrade. “What we are seeing [with omicron] is, you need additional protection compared to what cloth masks were providing. Omicron is much more transmissible than the variants we saw prior," Malley says. "If you are indoors and, particularly, if you’re around a lot of people—which is basically a classroom—you want [kids] wearing a higher quality and better-fitting mask.”
What kind of kids' mask should I buy?
While the gold standard for protective masks is an N95 respirator mask, those are almost non-existent in kids’ sizes. The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, or NIOSH, only regulates products designed for adults, so PPE products designed for children are out of their purview. This means there are technically no NIOSH-approved N95, KN95 or KF94 masks for kids, forcing us to rely on a company’s word to their product’s effectiveness.
If you find a company that says their children’s masks are FDA-certified or FDA-approved, be sure to dig deeper. Only Kimberly-Clark makes FDA-approved children's masks. There are, however, many companies who make FDA-approved or certified masks for adults, who also make them in children’s sizes. While the children's masks may not have the FDA designation, those masks do deserve a further look.
Know, however, that we are reliant on companies to regulate these goods themselves. Because of that, always be sure to read their claims and credentials carefully and thoroughly, and use your own best judgment before purchasing.
How should a child’s mask fit?
According to Malley, fit is of the utmost importance. “You really want to be very aware of gaps, looseness [and/or] slipping right now,” he says.
It's recommended you shop for masks that are made with a child’s face in mind. Be sure that gaps are minimal and that you haven’t chosen a mask that constantly needs to be readjusted by your child, as frequent touching of the face and mask can increase your child’s exposure to the virus.
The best way to ensure a proper fit is to measure from the middle of the bridge of your child’s nose to the bottom of their chin with a soft measuring tape. When you have that measurement, you should be able to better search for appropriately sized masks.
Some brands of adult masks can be as small as 5-inches, so if your child's measurements match, you can consider an adult-sized mask.
Surgical, KF94 and KN95 kids masks you can buy right now
It’s no surprise that masks are selling out everywhere. We did a bit of research based on Malley’s criteria, FDA guidelines and research conducted by Aaron Collins, an engineer who tests and reviews masks. Here are some of the best we’ve found.
1. Well + Before
These are listed as “petite,” but there are still three distinct sizes, so be sure to measure and pick the right one. Made with five layers of protection including two melt-blown layers, Collins tested these as having 99.1% filtration. The company claims that the masks are certified KN95 (and certification is available via email).
Reviewers say these masks are soft yet strong and they praise the sturdy nose clip, adjustable ear loops and excellent breathability. What’s more, these are some of the best-priced masks around, and you can even subscribe to get a continuous flow of fresh masks delivered monthly.
With three layers of protection, including a super-soft inner layer, these surgical style masks are comfortable for kids and meet the criteria of most school districts. At less than 50 cents a piece, these are super affordable. Kids also love the vibrant prints that make them feel cool while being safe.
These masks are the closest thing we found to a true N95 for kids. They can be found widely on the internet, however it’s highly recommended that you purchase them from a reputable supplier, like Bona Fide Masks, where they should arrive with an “anti-fake” label to verify authenticity. Powecom used to have emergency authorization for its KN95 masks, so they do produce masks of the highest quality and with exceptional filtration of over 97%.
4. Dr. Talbots
Dr. Talbots has long been a trusted brand of healthcare products for families. Owned by Nüby, this company is focused on the care and comfort of kids, so it's not wonder why these masks are often touted as the best-fitting surgical masks parents have found. These come in sizes 6 to 12 and 2 to 5, so be sure you're picking the right size for your child.
These kid-sized masks are made of three layers that claim to block 95% of bacterial and viral particles. Tested by an independent laboratory and approved by physicians, they are also touted by reviewers as being comfortable and breathable and kids will love that they come with nontoxic decals for personalization. These come with an adjustable nose wire, are responsibly made and recyclable. They do not come with adjustable ear loops, but that can easily be remedied by tying knots in the loops or by purchasing separate toggles to customize the fit.
According to Vida's website, these masks are “kid-tested and doctor-approved.” They are also made in the USA with an eye towards sustainability: Each order includes a prepaid return label so you can send your used masks to be recycled.
The five-layer filtration system offers 98.3% efficiency, according to Collins’ testing, and their metal nose wire ensures a snug fit. These masks don’t offer adjustable ear loops.
Small, mighty and very breathable, these are the favorite masks of celebrities and—for a more personal endorsement—my mom group. These three-ply, five-layer masks consistently get stellar reviews for comfort and fit by parents and kids alike. These also come in vibrant colors that kids like to wear, and they sit slightly off the face, perfect for kids who tend to chew their masks while wearing them. The masks also have adjustable nose wires and adjustable soft ear loops. These respirator-style masks claim to consistently achieve international standards of filtering out 95% of airborne particles and 99.9% of bacteria.
8. Little Lives
If you’re looking for affordable surgical masks that are made just for kids, Little Lives is worth a look. Made in the USA in an FDA-registered facility, they come in cute, kid-friendly colors and designs and their accordion fit makes them easy to wear—especially for small children.
As a bonus, it's been reported to us that—because these are made domestically—these kids' masks arrive fast. If you're scrambling to get kids' masks quickly, these may be your best choice.
According to my mom group, these masks are the "absolute best for preschoolers" and toddlers. The small frame of the mask fits tiny faces comfortably and gives them the right seal to protect them against viruses and bacteria. Collins's research claims that these masks filter out 99.3% of airborne particles. These are a great option for kids ages 2 to 5.
Two cloth options
While the CDC does not currently recommend cloth masks, these masks can help make for a better seal when paired with a surgical mask.
10. Happy Masks
If you are looking for a non-disposable mask, Happy Mask is still our favorite and ranked as the best mask for kids of all that we tried. According to Collins’ research, at 85.2% filtration, they have some of the highest protection against particles of any cloth mask. It's worth noting, however, that Happy Masks does post on their website Nelson Lab findings that show 99.9% viral and bacterial filtration efficiency. If we were to make a guess as to the discrepancy, it would likely have to do with fit, so do make sure your child's face mask has a good seal.
As for our in-house testing, we found these masks to be incredibly comfortable, breathable, and adjustable. Right now many items are sold out and others are on backorder. If you are looking for a mask to keep in your stash for the next wave or variant, we promise that these are worth the wait.
We haven't been able to test these masks but we were able to review their particle filtration findings. Enro masks claim to have a unique nanofiber filter that's machine washable, up to 100 times. Tested under the same standard used for surgical face masks by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), these masks showed 99.9% efficacy for bacteria, virus and particle filtration—that excellent filtration remained at 98.5% even after 100 washes. The fabric is thin and breathable and the masks are fully adjustable, with ear toggles and a nose wire. If you are looking for a reusable cover to use over your child's surgical mask to improve the fit, these may be the best option you could hope for.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Your kids need KN95 or KF94 masks. Here's where you can get them.