After almost two full years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government has finally issued free masks to be distributed to the general public.
In January, the Biden administration announced it would give out 400 million N95 for free as one of the steps to contain the spread of the pandemic. The masks, which are supplied by the Strategic National Stockpile, will be available at pharmacies and local health centers. The program should be “fully up and running by early February,” a White House official told CNN.
The program comes as the U.S. reached an unprecedented surge of over 800,000 daily average cases — the highest it has ever been at any point of the pandemic.
On Jan. 14, the CDC updated its mask guidelines, recommending “you wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear it consistently.”
Below, WWD breaks down everything you need to know about the free, government-issued N95 masks. Scroll on for more.
Where can I find the free N95 masks?
The masks are currently available and will be available in tens of thousands of pharmacies and hundreds of community health centers throughout the country. The pharmacies that have worked with the government to help distribute the COVID-19 vaccines are also partaking in the mask program.
These should include CVS, Walgreens/Duane Reade, Rite Aid, Albertsons, Walmart and Costco, among many others.
If you are looking to pick up free masks, it is best to call your local pharmacy to confirm they have them available as not all stores have received them yet. So far, the only option to get the free masks is to pick them up.
When will the masks be available?
The government-issued masks were apparently already arriving in certain pharmacies and centers as early as mid-January, but the program will reportedly not be fully running until early February. By now, a good amount of pharmacies should have them available, but if you want to double-check, call your local pharmacy.
If you are impatient for an N95 mask, you can always purchase them online, but make sure they’re from a reputable seller. There have been reports of fake or counterfeit KN95 masks online, so ensure the packaging is not tampered with, has no expiration date, official terminology is used carefully and that the logo or company is seen on the mask.
EvolveTogether, WellBefore, Project N95, Lowe’s and The Home Depot are just a few of the places that sell N95 masks.
How many masks can I take?
The government has issued three free N95 masks per adult.
What’s the difference between an N95 mask and a regular mask?
According to the CDC, the recommended N95 masks should be used as they are included in the group of masks that offer more protection among the masks that are currently available to the public.
“Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” the CDC said in a statement.
Though all masks will provide protection regardless, it is the N95s that provide the most protection.
How many times can I reuse a N95 mask?
The CDC recommends you should not use a N95 mask more than five times total. Any deterioration or fraying of the straps indicate that it is not creating a tight seal and should be replaced with another mask.
Will there be more masks available in the future?
For now, the government has not made any concrete plans to give out more free masks.
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