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What Strategist Readers Bought in January: Masks, More Masks, and At-Home COVID Tests

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

Welcome back to Your Shopping Cart, where we break out the top-ten products that you, devoted Strategist readers, all bought in droves. Think of this as the tl;dr of the Strategist. If your like-minded brethren are buying these items, maybe you’d like to, too.

If we look back at this time last year, face masks took the top-five spots for the first time ever. Fast-forward to January 2022, and we’ve broken yet another mask-buying record: They took up eight of the ten best-seller spots, which is the most masks we’ve seen at the top. It seems that with the rise of the Omicron variant, readers made the swap from fabric masks to KN95s — for both adults and kids. And, in perhaps another sign of the times, the only other items that came out on top were two different types of at-home COVID-19 tests.

$15 for 10

Making its return on our best-sellers list since September are these Powecom KN95 masks that are also included on the FDA’s list of approved emergency PPE and purportedly filter out 95 percent of small particles. They were featured in our roundup of the best disposable masks because they’re “soft on the skin and create a tight seal all the way around from nose bridge to under the chin,” and it’s also why Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo reports that they’re her “go-to mask for wearing alone or layering with a fabric mask on top.”

This is the first time the smaller kid version of the above Powecom mask is appearing on our best-sellers list. Aaron Collins, a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science who has spent the pandemic testing hundreds of masks, included them on his widely circulated Google spreadsheet of face masks for kids. In his testing, he found this mask to have a filtration efficiency of 97.3 percent and best for children ages 7 through 12, depending on face size.

These KN95 masks from Vida were popular back in August when school was starting up again, and they seem to be a go-to for readers with kids. In our roundup of the best face masks for kids, we point out that they’re expert-approved and FDA-registered, and they’re a recyclable, disposable option. Each order includes a prepaid return label so that you can send your masks back after use so the brand can properly recycle them.

Debuting on our best-sellers list are these COVID-19 antigen rapid tests. They were included in our investigation on where to find at-home COVID-19 tests, and senior writer Karen Iorio-Adelson reported that the test “links to an app for step-by-step testing instructions and to store results. The app (which you don’t need to download to use the test) also lets you monitor results for a whole group.”

Vida cotton masks have been a reader favorite for the past year, but this is the first time the company’s adult-size KN95 masks have topped our list. When we featured the masks in our roundup of the best KN95 masks for COVID protection, we reported that they “are manufactured in an FDA-registered facility and lab-tested for a filtration-efficiency rate of 95 to 99 percent.”

We identified these WeCare masks as the first bona fide mask trend at the end of 2020, and the trend seems to persist among readers. Since that article was published, the disposable masks have been on our best-sellers list eight times. When we tested them against other disposable masks, we found that they were “very lightweight, making these perfect for keeping in a bag or jacket pocket as a backup mask. They’re soft against the skin, and the bendable nose strip helps with fit and when wearing with glasses.”

These masks from the brand AirQueen are new to this list, and while they’re not technically a KN95 mask, we report that they were tested by the FDA in 2020 and found to have 94 percent filtration efficiency. They also have the stamp of approval from our senior vice-president of e-commerce Camilla Cho, who says it’s “so lightweight and comfortable” that she “almost forgot she was wearing one.”

[Editor’s note: You can buy these on Amazon, but the seller isn’t always the same, so we’ve linked to AirQueen directly too.]

Another COVID-19 antigen test making its debut on our best-sellers list is from the brand On/Go. We reported that it’s one of the fastest at-home COVID tests, with results in just ten minutes. The company recommends testing twice with 24 to 48 hours in between tests, and since there are two kits in the box, you only need to buy one.

[Editor’s note: Many reviewers of this product say the tests they received were just about to expire, which explains why its rating is so low. However, on January 20, 2022, On/Go announced that the FDA granted a three-month expiration date extension for On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Tests, increasing their shelf life from six months to nine, on all new and already produced tests. Anything you order now should be completely safe to use.]

This mask, which is sold by Bona Fide masks, the exclusive United States distributor of Powecom KN95s, is another first-time best seller. We reported that while earlier iterations of this mask were “much less breathable,” the manufacturer has recently updated the design while still offering filter efficiency over 95 percent. It is made of three layers of nonwoven material, including a melt-blown inner filter layer.

$25 for 10

Last on our best-sellers list is this mask, which has been certified by the Korean institution that’s similar to our FDA. When we reported our investigation on the difference between KN95 and KN94 masks, these kids’ masks stood out because they’re “made of four layers of nonwoven material. The innermost layer is soft against the skin, while the other layers work together to capture large and very small particles. And they include a bendable nose strip for a tighter fit.”

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

What Readers Are Buying: Masks and At-Home COVID Tests