At-home rapid Covid tests isn’t the only thing we’ve been on the hunt for lately. With cold and flu and yes, yet another Covid-19 season upon us, I’ve been making a list of a few essentials so that my family isn’t scrambling if we do come down with something. And while it’s a bummer to be doing this again, I’m so grateful to be vaccinated this time around and to know a little more about how the virus spreads — and doesn’t.
No more furious bleaching of all my belongings, whoo!
(Not that we won’t still be sanitizing our gadgets nonstop.)
– This post has been updated for 2022 –
Thankfully, my list of essentials won’t be as extensive as last year’s list, which went crazy viral at the time. And I don’t think there’s any need to go nuts with the toilet paper and paper towels stockpiling this year. So here are a just a few other items to try to get your hands on now before fall.
And hey, no panic-buying this year, deal? There’s enough bread yeast for all of us. so no need to hoard.
– Caroline, with Liz
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Some items to stock up on for Covid and where to find them
At-Home Rapid Covid Tests
If you’ve ever thought, “This is probably a cold, but I just want to be sure,” you need to get tested for the Omicron variant which can breakthrough even triple-vaxxed and appears like a cold. (Further proof that vaccines work.)
Of course it’s hard to find Abbot’s 15-minute BinaxNOW Covid-19 at-home tests these days; in fact no sooner did we first publish this article that The NY Times published a piece on how Abbot Labs uh, destroyed their self-test inventory thinking Covid was over. <headdesk>
Well now they’ve ramped up again, which is the good news! Unfortunately for now, they’re still tough to track down.
There’s already a wait list on Amazon for Abbot rapid tests but Liz managed to order some online from CVS and they arrived in a few short days. They’re about $23 each box, with a limit of 6 per customer.
Each box contains two tests, because the idea is to test yourself twice within three days. They have received FDA Emergency Use Authorization, and you don’t even need to ship the samples to a lab.
On/Go is another FDA emergency-authorized Covid at-home rapid test that you can find through Amazon — and while it may say several weeks for delivery, Liz received hers weeks early, as did a few other people we know. Again, be careful with the unclear quantity descriptions that are kind of deceptive and annoying — “two tests” means one box. They are $24/box, not “12/each” as it implies.
QuickVue Rapid Covid Tests by Quidel are also easy to use but like the others, you have to keep refreshing to see when they become available online.
Your best bet may just to be to stop into your local pharmacy — or go to one that’s a little more out-of-the-way. That’s how Liz’s family was able to track down a few over the holiday break, at a more remote Walgreen’s in Brooklyn.
I also found that eMed offers Abbot’s at-home Covid tests in a pack of 6. At $150 a pack, that isn’t cheap especially considering some drug stores and testing sites may offer it free, and if you’ve been exposed, insurance should cover testing elsewhere. But if you have what you’re pretty sure are allergies or a cold and want some peace of mind, this is a good first step before following up with a lab test if necessary.
Face Masks: Good Ones
Given the higher transmissibility of the Delta and Omicron variants, as of late 2021, experts are now recommending you stick with N95 masks, KN95s, or KF94 masks, NOT cloth masks.
We are not medical experts, and you should read articles that interview trusted medical experts. So start with that. You can also cross-reference your choices on the FDA approved face mask list
What’s the difference between face masks?
N95 masks = US-standard, NIOSH approved, most breathable, offering protection against particles as small 0.3 microns
KN95s = Chinese-made version of N95s, also acceptable if properly made
KF94 masks = Korean standard of N95s, comparable to the best KN95s, accepted if properly made.
Why is my mask not FDA authorized?
Please note that the FDA has rescinded emergency authorization FOR HEALTHCARE WORKERS of all non-N95 masks not because they are ineffective, but because there are now enough N95 masks (US standard) for healthcare workers. Please don’t take this as an indication that your KN95 or KF94 mask is not effective for consumer use in a non-healthcare setting.
Can you reuse N95s?
While N95s are not designed to be reused by professionals, current studies are showing that KN95s can provide 40 hours of wear time if they are not wet or soiled, and you give them 24 hours between wears.
Which KN95s can I buy for myself?
To be clear, KN95s are still recommended by the CDC for consumer use.
If you’re on Amazon shopping for face masks for yourself or older kids, check the 50-pack of KN95 masks from WWDOLL (please see note below), which were recommended to Liz by a physician friend. She says she’s had great luck with them, and her teens find them comfortable too. They’re just about a dollar each.
Important Safety Update 2022: Please note that there are masks the CDC has recently listed as not NIOSH approved. In other words, they have no permission to use “NIOSH” in their marketing or packaging. However it doesn’t mean that they are *not* effective. One of the items on the list are the WWDOLL KN95s above. Members on our team continue to use them and are satisfied with the performance, but please use your own best judgment. There are more details in comments below.
Which KN95s should I get for kids?
There are so few KN95s in kid sizes, that they definitely can be tougher to track down, so this is one item to buy now if you’re in the market. Here are some ideas:
I’ll be opting for the 5-layer filtration of Kids KN95 masks from Vida, at least when we’re in public spaces or school. They’re FDA registered offering 95% efficiency, and kids who are used to cloth masks might be surprised how comfortable they are, in part because when you breathe in you don’t suck the fabric against your lips. (NB: The Vida site now calls their masks “FDA listed” though we’re not entirely sure what that means and see no mention of them on the FDA site)
I also love that Vida offers a mask recycling program, since I expect we’ll go through these quickly. Check out their adult KN95 face masks, too — they’re right sized for teens and adults, and they even offer colors beyond black.
(Note that it’s really important that a mask fit properly, which means it pinches over the nose and doesn’t gape on the sides.)
One more option for kids 3-10 (or anyone with a smaller face) are the kids’ face masks from Evolve Together — but you have to get yourself on the waitlist for some styles. Kids will love the little decals that let them customize their masks, and they have terrific filtration plus breathability.
What about surgical masks?
If you do not have the KN95 or similar masks, or your child has trouble with them, you can double mask with surgical mask and a cloth mask over it.
Start with a surgical mask like the ones from WeCare — they offer lots of face mask styles and sizes just for kids from unicorns to tie-dye. Though pro tip: the adult face masks can be used by younger kids in a pinch, by tying a little knot on the side of each ear loop. that way you don’t have to buy multiple boxes.
Most of all, be sure that they fit properly with a pinch-grip over the nose and no leakage around the sides.
Because they’re individually wrapped, they aren’t the eco-friendly option, but it does make them sanitary when you’re carrying a few “just in case” extras in your bag. As moms do.
Travel-Sized Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is essential in everyday life these days. Last year I bought whatever I could find — some of which smelled like a morning-after barroom rag– so this year I’ll take my pick of pleasant scents that don’t make everyone in the car gag.
One option that’s terrific for everyone in the family are the Olika clip-on hand sanitizers, which affix right to backpacks, lunch bags, totes or duffels. They’re effective, they smell great, they don’t dry out your skin, and those cute birdie containers are refillable too.
Kids may even prefer the Olika x Tea Collection hand sanitizers which have fun designs on them.
Believe it or not, each of those birds contains 300+ sprays so they’re pretty efficient.
A Pulse Oximeter
Yes, pulse oximeter, I do get deja vu when I’m with you. While I was hoping to see the last of this admittedly useful tool last year, I’m still pushing parents — and anyone concerned about Covid breakthrough cases — to get a ZacUrate oximeter to help monitor oxygen levels, which can be your first sign of a problem.
Especially if you have kids who are too young to get vaccinated — though we hope kids under 12 will be eligible for the vaccine soon.
An Accurate Thermometer
There is absolutely no substitute for an accurate, reliable thermometer in your house, especially when you have kids. So check yours to see if it’s still working, because they sometimes go south sooner than we’d like. I like this iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer for under $20 because it doesn’t involve asking my toddler to hold a stick in their mouth (or ahem, elsewhere) for a full minute. So quick and easy.
Liz also recommends her Braun Digital Ear Thermometer, which costs a bit more but has been going strong for many years.
Vitamins The Kids Will Actually Take
I’m a big believer in vitamins all the time, but especially during cold and flu season, Covid aside. I like these immune support gummies by Nature’s Nutrition because they include Vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea all the in the form of something that tastes like candy to my kids.
We’re also fans of SmartyPants vitamins around here, which come in lots of varieties so you can pick out what’s right for your toddler, teen, or even yourself.
Note: please keep in mind that “immune boosting” is a tough claim to prove as this Harvard Med School article explains. However vitamin pills or gummies can’t hurt, in addition to giving the kids lots of vitamins from fresh fruits and veggies.
Kids’ Pain Relief
With a toddler who’s still teething, our household always has children’s Tylenol on hand. But I’m going to make sure to order extra this fall since COVID-19 and RSV seem to be circling in our community — and this is one of those products that seem to disappear from shelves from time to time.
I like that this one Children’s Tylenol two-pack comes in both liquid and chewable tablets. Also smart for parents who constantly misplace the syringe — just me? Of course any pain relief, cough syrup, or other items that work for you are just fine.
Speaking of cough syrup, if you want to ease up on the medicinals, our team has had great luck with New Zeland’s PRI Propolus and Manuka Honey Cough Elixir. It was sent to us as a press sample a while back, and evidently it’s terrific. It soothes sore throats and irritated mouths with Manuka honey, hold the artificial colors, flavors, and (ugh) HFCS.You can find right on Amazon or in local health food stores or well-stocked pharmacies.
Anti-Bacterial Wipes…Just In Case
We always recommend that you go easy on the anti-bacterial products — skip it for hand soap, but use it for household wipes. And after last year’s scramble, I’m so glad to see these Lysol wipes back in stock at most places.
Of course now we know that Covid spreads more through airborne particles than on surfaces, but I still use these to fight off other lingering germs on door knobs and kitchen counters.
Remember, don’t hoard them when you find them…but can’t hurt to have a couple on hand, right?