Many schools no longer require them, but with the transportation mandate still in place, you might need to stock up on masks designed for kids.
Editor's note, March 7, 2023: The recommendations in this article are out of date and will not be updated going forward. We recommend referring to the CDC and WHO, linked above, for current mask guidelines.
Thanks to the high infection rates of the new BA.5 omicron variant, you may be looking to give your kids a little extra protection before sending them back to the classroom this year. Vaccinating your children is still the best way to protect them from COVID-19, but wearing a KN95 mask or N95 mask adds another layer of defense. And because you want the mask to fit properly, you'll need to make sure you get one that's appropriately sized for kids.
Breakthrough infections rarely result in hospitalization if you're already vaccinated, but wearing a mask with a nose wire and adjustable ear straps offers additional protection when social distancing isn't an option. The bottom line: Wearing masks, social distancing and vaccinating can help you avoid catching or spreading COVID-19 to more vulnerable people in your family or community.
Many schools no longer require mask wearing, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now only recommends students and staff wear a mask in communities with a high level of COVID-19 transmission. But if you're still concerned about your child's safety, we recommend going with one of the masks below.
While CNET hasn't 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 our informed choices of the best kids face mask, including disposable KN95 mask models for smaller faces. Plus, we're including some models that our staff have used in their own family environments, such as reusable face masks with adjustable nose wire bridges and elastic ear loop straps for a secure fit and greater comfort during all-day wear, and water-resistant reusable masks that are good for sports.
Read more:My Toddler Got COVID-19. It Turned Our Lives Upside Down
With breakthrough COVID-19 cases continuing to rise and the omicron variant spreading rapidly, CDC face mask guidance is updated regularly. It still recommends wearing a face mask indoors, especially in areas of high transmission due to the omicron variant -- even for those who are fully vaccinated. Its recommendation as of Jan. 28 says N95 masks provide the highest level of protection, followed by KN95 masks, while loosely woven cloth masks provide the least amount of protection.
The CDC says that the protection a mask offers wanes when it doesn't fit properly. If there are gaps, air with respiratory droplets can leak through.
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 kids under 5 -- 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 children 2 years old and up.
Vida has KN95 face masks for kids with a five-layer filtration system that will reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets. You can get a 10-pack of these disposable masks for $35.
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 $27.50 on sale.
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 around $47.50.
Powecom's KN95s are priced at $12 for a pack of 10. The masks have five inner layers with adjustable ear loops and come from an EUA-authorized Chinese manufacturer.
WWDoll's KN95 masks have five layers of fabric, a foldable 3D shape, ear loops and an adjustable nose clip 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 a mask pack of 25 for $20.
ICU Health disposable face masks offer three layers of protection and an adjustable nose bridge to fit your child's face. It is a non-medical grade mask and is non-sterile. This mask should be used as a single-use disposable mask. You can get a pack of 20 for just $10. This mask should be used for your kid with adult supervision.
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 $15. This mask comes in all kinds of colors and in both kids and adult sizes.
Just Play's disposable face masks have three layers with an adjustable nose piece and come in sizes small (kids ages 2-7) and large (ages 8 and older). Each box has 24 masks and in two designs for $13.
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 or organic cotton masks versus the N95, KN95 and KF94 masks listed above. But there's an outer-layer 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."
For kids who play sports, the $25 Under Armour Sportsmask can help improve airflow with its water-resistant fabric. It also provides UPF 50+ sun protection. Our former colleague Larry Dignan says his kids keep coming back to the UA masks and that he's been wearing them to the gym as well.
Vistaprint has contoured face masks with adjustable ear loops and adjustable nose pieces for kids. If you order four or more, you can save 15% on your order with the promo code FAST15.
This story has been completely updated and revised to reflect new advice and recommendations as of January 2022.