The current mask situation in the U.S. is giving some people flashbacks to spring 2020. Though cloth masks are easy to find, the high-filtration N95 respirators approved by the government have been less accessible. Shoppers looking to protect themselves have to navigate through overpriced products and knockoffs of the real thing. If you feel overwhelmed in your search for the best face mask, the government is making it a lot easier to get your hands on one. Starting this week, you can pick up free N95s from a pharmacy or supermarket, NPR reports.
Earlier in January, the Biden administration announced plans to provide 400 million free N95 respirators to the public in response to the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19. That promise is coming to fruition the last week of January. The government has started delivering medical-grade masks from the Strategic National Stockpile to grocery stores, pharmacies, and community health centers around the country. By early February, the distribution program is expected to be operating at full force.
The best place to pick up a free N95 mask depends on where you live. Meijer, a grocery and pharmacy chain in the Midwest, has already received 3 million masks as of Monday, January 24. They will be distributed to visitors via tables near the Meijer Greeter stand of each store's entrance, according to the company. Kroger's grocery stores with pharmacies will also be handing out masks in Midwestern states, as well as in the Southwest.
Walgreens plans to make free masks available starting Friday, January 28, and CVS expects to give out its N95 masks in the coming weeks. Other chains taking part in the program include Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket, Winn-Dixie, and Hy-Vee. Community health centers will make free N95 respirators available to visitors as well, though on a smaller scale compared to the major stores.
The masks distributed by the government are free for everyone, but they will be limited to three per person. Even if you already have high-filtration face masks at home, it may be time to switch them out. Here are some guidelines for rewearing your N95 masks.