As kids return to in-person learning this fall, some may be required to wear face masks inside school buildings. Due to concerns about Covid variants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its K-12 school guidance to recommend students, teachers, staff and visitors wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. But schools are not the only place kids should wear masks, according to the CDC, which states unvaccinated people older than 2 years old should wear face masks in indoor public spaces — those under 12 years old cannot get vaccinated yet. And even if kids ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, CDC guidance now recommends masking indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission.
The CDC does not specify which type of mask is the best option for kids. It does, however, state that individuals should consider wearing masks that provide a higher level of protection — with features such as improved fit and filtration — when they’re in close contact with people who do not live with them. KN95 masks provide the most non-medical grade protection, according to Nina Shapiro, MD, director of pediatric ear, nose and throat at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. And since many kids are unvaccinated and positive cases are increasing across the country, she said “it’s extra critical that kids stay protected.”
SKIP AHEAD KN95 masks for kids | How to shop for kids KN95 masks
As we previously reported, KN95 masks are the Chinese equivalent of an N95 mask in the U.S. and are manufactured to offer 95 percent protection from particulate matter. After seeing a surge in interest for adult-size KN95 masks this year, Shapiro said some manufacturers are beginning to make options in sizes, colors and patterns for kids. But should they wear them?
There is no reason for kids to avoid KN95 masks, according to Adam Ratner, MD, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at NYU Langone Health’s Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. But he also does not think they necessarily need to. Overall, the deciding factor policing the best type of mask for kids comes down to fit, said Ratner, a professor of pediatrics and microbiology.
“If it’s a little kid, they shouldn’t be using an adult-size mask that’s hanging off their face,” Ratner said. “If the mask doesn’t fit, you’re at higher risk of kids not wearing it or wearing it incorrectly.”
Experts previously told us that kids cloth masks with two or more layers of fabric are effective, but some parents may still be considering purchasing KN95 masks for their children. We spoke to medical experts about KN95 masks made for kids and how to shop for them, plus compiled options from brands like VIDA, Wellbefore and Evolvetogether.
Drawbacks of KN95 masks for kids
Unlike many cloth reusable masks, which are often designed with built-in adjustable ear loops and are sometimes available in multiple sizes, KN95 masks are usually one size fits all, said Sharon Nachman, MD, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Because of this, it’s hard to guarantee whether or not KN95 masks will fit young kids, even if they’re designed to be smaller than KN95 masks made for adults.
Additionally, Nachman noted that young kids are mouth breathers, which can lead to masks getting wet, especially if worn for an extended period of time. Since “a wet mask is not an efficient mask,” Nachman recommended parents send kids to school with multiple masks in a Ziploc bag so they can swap them out at lunch, for example, and wash them when they get home. But if kids wear KN95 masks to school, which are disposable, they may go through multiples in one day, Nachman said.
Best KN95 masks for kids
VIDA Kids KN95 Masks
Recommended for those between the ages of 3 and 10, VIDA’s kids KN95 masks offer five layers of protection and feature an adjustable nose bridge. You can purchase masks in a variety of colors ranging from Denim and Black to Pistachio and Blush. You can buy a minimum of 10 masks and choose between sets of one, two or three colors. The masks come with return envelopes to participate in VIDA’s face mask recycling program, too.
WellBefore Kids KN95 Masks
WellBefore’s kids KN95 masks come in three sizes, depending on the age of your child: Regular, Small and Extra Small. They come individually wrapped and feature adjustable ear loops, as well as five layers of protection. You can purchase a minimum of 10 masks, and the pack comes with five white masks and five blue masks.
WWDOLL Kids KN95 Masks (restocking soon)
WWDOLL’s kids KN95 masks, which come in a pack of 25, feature five layers of protection and are built with adjustable ear loops. The masks feature a flexible metal nose clip designed with extra sponge padding, which WWDOLL said prevents a gap from forming between the mask and skin and prevents glasses from fogging up.
Green Supply Kids KN95 Masks
Available in packs of 10, these kids KN95 masks are designed to fit smaller faces, specifically ages 3 and up. They’re available in Black, Pink and Dark Blue. Masks feature five layers of protection and an adjustable nose bridge, and they come individually wrapped.
Evolvetogether KN95 Masks (restocking soon)
Designed for those age 12 and older, Evolvetogether’s KN95 masks are available in packs of five and feature six layers of protection. They come individually wrapped in biodegradable pouches and have a flat profile. The KN95 masks feature an adjustable nose bridge and come in four colors (all of which will be restocked soon): Rio de Janeiro (black), Marrakech (gray), Copenhagen (khaki) and Santorini (navy).
These KN95 masks are not specifically designed to fit young kids, but they will fit older children, like middle and high schoolers. These masks come in a pack of 20 and are available in multiple patterns like camo, leopard, floral and tie dye. You can also purchase them in Black, White and Gray. The masks are built with five layers of protection and an adjustable nose bridge.
How to buy KN95 masks for kids
As we previously reported, since KN95 masks are manufactured according to a Chinese standard, they’re not regulated by a governing body in the U.S. Thus, it’s hard to distinguish between a real and counterfeit KN95 mask, and you can’t tell by simply looking at them.
However, the Food and Drug Administration’s list of approved KN95 models serves as a way to help Americans source legitimate masks made by certain manufacturers in China deemed effective for protection — importantly, the FDA stopped maintaining its list for KN95 masks now that there’s no longer a supply shortage of respirators made according to U.S. standards, but it specifically and officially applied to healthcare workers. Experts told us that the FDA’s list is still a good reference point for those who don’t work in a healthcare setting — it includes KN95 models that were authorized for use before the FDA stopped updating its list.
When purchasing a KN95 mask for kids, Shapiro recommended cross-referencing the FDA’s list just as you would when buying for adults. Additionally, like Ratner, she said to be aware of fit. “There’s a lot of size and shape variability in children’s faces, and if a mask is too big, where it hits right below the eyes or has gaps at the cheeks or chin, it defeats the purpose protection-wise. It also makes it less likely that the child will keep it on,” she said.
To find the best KN95 mask for your child, it may be helpful to purchase a few different versions to try at home before going out in public. To improve a mask’s fit, the CDC suggests using a mask fitter or brace to prevent gaps around the edges. You can also add cord locks to the ear loops on KN95 masks, which makes them adjustable.
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