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Face masks for the fully vaccinated: A shopping guide

As more people get vaccinated across the country, the CDC releases new guidelines about wearing masks outside and more.
Older woman in backyard wearing an Kn95 mask and holding someones hand. The CDC updated their guidelines on how to shop for face masks and how vaccinated people can socialize. Learn about the updates for face masks and more.
Although being fully vaccinated does offer some protection, the CDC has released guidance for how to safely socialize — as well as its latest research on the best face mask to consider.Getty Images

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As the proportion of vaccinated Americans increases every day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is updating its face mask guidance for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Notably, the CDC update says that while walking, running or biking outdoors with members of your household — and regardless of your vaccination status — you do not have to wear a mask outside. The same goes for attending a small, outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated family and friends. Whether fully vaccinated or not at all, however, the CDC still recommends wearing masks indoors and in large crowds outdoors.

SKIP AHEAD Face masks, face shields, air purifiers and hand sanitizer

Additionally, after a year of wearing face masks, scientists and researchers have learned substantially more about what qualities to look for in a mask that make it most efficacious, as well as what to avoid — we even have a manufacturing standard by which face mask brands can test theirs for efficacy. Public spaces such as restaurants, gyms and schools are also reopening across the country, some with limited capacities and others allowing free, pre-pandemic levels. Yet, medical experts urge people to practice safety measures to arm themselves against the coronavirus, including getting vaccinated, double masking and investing in respirators like KN95s, as well as maintaining physical distance, washing hands frequently and regularly applying hand sanitizer.

To simplify the latest from the CDC, we broke down what to know about the new face mask guidance and recommendations for people who are fully vaccinated, all simply put in one place. We also included a list of products you might want to have on hand at this point in the pandemic, including Shopping reader favorite masks, air purifiers and more.

CDC face mask guidance

While face mask mandates vary by state, they are now required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the U.S., as well as in transportation hubs like airports, bus stations and train stations. Overall, the CDC recommends people wear masks in public settings, at events and gatherings and anywhere they will be around other people.

In February, ASTM International, a voluntary standard-setting organization, released a Standard Specification for Barrier Face Coverings, which helps establish specific requirements for mask design and performance. Brands and manufacturers can take their face masks to a lab to be tested against ASTM’s standard. If a mask passes the tests, it can be labeled with the ASTM standard, which signals to shoppers that it meets high-levels of efficacy.

To help you evaluate masks while shopping, the CDC has created a list of face mask features to look for, suggesting masks...

  1. Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
  2. Completely cover the nose and mouth
  3. Fit snugly against the side of your face, under your chin and nose, leaving no gaps
  4. Equip an adjustable nose wire to prevent air from leaking out

Avoid wearing masks that...

  1. Are made of fabric that makes it hard to breathe, like vinyl
  2. Equip exhalation valves or vents
  3. Are intended for healthcare workers, like N95 respirators

As for gaiters, the CDC says they can be used as an adequate face covering so long as they have two layers or can be folded to make two layers. Face shields, however, cannot be worn alone — they can be worn in combination with a mask. Additionally, scarves, ski masks and balaclavas can be worn over masks, but cannot serve as a sole face covering.

CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people

The CDC released its first set of recommendations for fully vaccinated people on March 8, including guidelines about seeing others and for isolation, quarantine and testing. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccination series like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

While the CDC says fully vaccinated people are safer than unvaccinated people when engaging in indoor social activities in public settings like gyms, offices, restaurants and stores, guidance still requires mask wearing. As for traveling, on April 2 the CDC released guidance saying “fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States and do not need Covid-19 testing or post-travel self-quarantine as long as they continue to take Covid-19 precautions while traveling – wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, socially distancing and washing hands frequently.” The same goes for international travel unless otherwise specified by the international destination: The CDC states “fully vaccinated people must still have a negative Covid-19 test result before they board a flight to the United States and get a Covid-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning from international travel.”

Vaccinated people can also socialize with other vaccinated people without wearing masks in private settings like homes, as well as with unvaccinated people who are at low risk of severe Covid-19. The CDC states that the level of precautions taken should be determined by the characteristics of unvaccinated people since they’re unprotected against the coronavirus — in other words, you should determine necessary safety measures based on the least safe person in the room.

However, during interactions between fully vaccinated people and anyone at risk of severe Covid-19, everyone should “take precautions, including wearing a well-fitted mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and visiting outdoors or in a well-ventilated space,” according to the CDC. The same precautions should be taken if one or more members of a single household are at risk of severe Covid, and during interactions between vaccinated people and unvaccinated people from multiple households at the same time.

As for spending time outside, the CDC updated its face mask guidance on April 27. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people must continue to wear face masks outdoors while attending a crowded outdoor event like a concert, parade or sporting event. But they do not have to wear a face mask outdoors while…

  • Attending a small, outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people
  • Dining at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple households
  • Walking, running or bike outdoors with members of their household

What to keep on hand during the pandemic

Unlike the beginning of the pandemic when face masks and hand sanitizers were hard to come by, retailers now offer a variety of different options, allowing you to stock up. Here are some products you might want to keep at home to protect yourself against the coronavirus — we filtered these down to the most purchased products we’ve covered based on recommendations from the CDC and medical experts.

Most purchased KN95 mask: WWDOLL KN95 Face Mask

These KN95 masks are Amazon bestsellers and come from a manufacturer listed on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of Authorized Imported, Non-NIOSH Approved Respirators Manufactured in China. The masks come in packs of 25. They’re designed with five layers of fabric and feature elastic ear loops as well as an adjustable nose bridge. The face masks come in Black and Pink, as well as White and Multicolor, although currently out of stock.

Most purchased disposable mask: PM Performotor Disposable Face Masks

Sold in a pack of 50, these disposable face masks are designed with three layers of non-woven fiber fabric to filter out small particles while also providing breathability. They have an adjustable nose bridge and come in eight colors: Black, White, Green, Orange, Purple, Red, Yellow and Silver.

Most purchased reusable mask: Maxboost Fabric Face Mask

Maxboost’s fabric face mask comes in two sizes: Unisize Medium/Large and Extra Large. The mask is made from two layers of fabric and it has a curved 3D design with center stitching, which creates space between the mask and the mouth so it’s easy to talk. It’s also constructed with an adjustable nose bridge and adjustable ear loops. Masks come in a pack of three.

Most purchased exercise mask: Under Armour UA SportsMask

Under Armour’s face mask is designed with three layers of fabric, including an inner layer made from the brand’s Iso-Chill fabric which feels cool against skin. The mask has an adjustable nose bridge as well as a strip of fabric at the top that eliminates gaps between the skin and the mask. It comes in five sizes — Extra Small/Small, Small/Medium, Medium/Large, Large/Extra Large and Extra Large/Extra Extra Large — as well as three colors: Black/Charcoal, Slate Purple/Arctic Pink and Red/Silver Chrome.

Most purchased face shield: Muryobao Safety Face Shield

This face shield offers protection for the full length of your face, and it’s wrap-around design provides protection around the sides of the face, too. It has a foam strip that rests on your forehead, as well as an adjustable elastic band to best fit your face. The face shield is also treated with anti-fog and anti-static coating to improve visibility through the clear plastic barrier.

Most purchased air purifier: Germ Guardian True HEPA Air Purifier

Germ Gaurdian’s air purifier captures up to 99.7 percent of dust and allergens as small as .3 microns. The air purifier has a true HEPA filter which captures dust mites, pollen and pet dander, as well as a pre-filter and charcoal filter to absorb odors and trap large dust particles and pet hair. The air purifier is also built with a UV-C light that helps kill airborne viruses. It can clean the air in rooms up to 153 square feet and has three speed settings to choose from.

Most purchased hand sanitizer: Germ-X Hand Sanitizer

When soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing 60 percent ethyl alcohol. Germ-X Hand sanitizer has 62 percent ethyl alcohol and also contains vitamin E to moisturize hands. The brand says it kills 99.9 percent of germs and bacteria in about 15 seconds. The hand sanitizer is sold in a variety of sizes, including larger 32-ounce containers or travel-sized 3-ounce containers.

CORRECTION (April 1, 2021, 3:55 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the certification status of masks made by Halolife. After consulting lab reports and experts, NBC News confirmed that the masks did not meet a new standard for reusable masks. As a result, mention of the masks has been removed from the article.

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