For nearly two years, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued complicated—and occasionally contradictory—guidance on when you should wear a mask, depending on whether you’re inside, outside, vaccinated, or not vaccinated. In all the confusion, it’s easy to miss one big demographic that remains unvaccinated: Children younger than 5 still can’t get the shots

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has sickened kids and disrupted the daily routines of families all across the country. Ventilation and vaccination remain key tools in combating the spread, and so is a good mask. Unvaccinated children over 2 years old should wear face masks in public spaces. If your kids are back in school, you should probably refresh your mask stash.

I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old in preschool and elementary school; I’ve spent almost two years finding masks they’ll wear. Recent US Centers for Disease Control guidance notes that N95 masks offer the best protection. However, these masks have not been tested for broad use on smaller children, and as I noted in my Best Face Masks for Adults guide, the ideal mask is the one that fits well and that your kid will wear. I also keep an eye out for masks that have been independently tested and certified by the new ASTM face mask manufacturing standards. 

If you’re looking for ideas to entertain your small (or not-so-small) kids, check out our guides to entertaining preschoolers during quarantine and how to set up a virtual workspace for your kids.

Updated January 2022: We’ve added the latest guidance on the Omicron variant, vaccinations for younger children, and N95s. 

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