By now, this is a familiar story: Soon after we recovered from the ravages of the Delta Covid-19 variant, a new one emerged. The Omicron variant is spreading faster than any other variant before it, which means that being vaccinated is no longer sufficient protection. To protect yourself, you need to social-distance, increase ventilation, and—yes—mask up.
A good face mask is a critical tool in helping slow the spread of Covid-19. We've been outfitting our kids and adapting our practices as new, science-based recommendations emerge. These are some of the masks, and masking practices, that I and other WIRED staff members are using. Keep a mask on, but remember to stay at home when possible, increase ventilation in indoor spaces, get tested regularly, and maintain at least a 6-foot distance from others in public (preferably outdoors).
Earlier this year, the US Centers for Disease Control updated its mask guidance to say that N95 masks and respirators offer the greatest protection. The materials-testing organization ASTM International also recently published the first-ever manufacturing standards on what constitutes a good face covering. Based on these guidelines, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health now recommends that if you're going into the office, you use a mask that meets the ASTM's minimum Workplace Performance Guidelines.
New guidance and standards mean that it's now very hard for me to recommend the cloth face coverings that we recommended earlier in the pandemic. It will take time for every mask manufacturer to get their products tested. In the meantime, make sure your mask follows the recommended guidelines from the CDC, fits well, and is clean. A good reusable mask should completely cover your nose and mouth, use at least two fabric layers, and be washable. When I receive a mask, I first use the light and candle test—can I see light through the weave? Can I blow a candle out while wearing it? The mask's weave should be tight enough to prevent you doing either of those things. Then I wear them while grocery shopping or walking my dog.
We've included some tips on mask care and choosing the best kind of mask straps at the end of this list. Be sure to check out our guide to the Best Face Masks for Kids and How to Prevent and Treat Mascne.
Updated January 2022: We updated our guidance to add information about the Omicron variant, the latest CDC guidelines, information on free masks, and our latest mask recommendations.