After offering four free COVID-19 tests for all American homes, the US government recently announced that it will distribute 400 million free N95 masks to the public.
The masks, which the CDC says offer the greatest protection against the highly contagious Omicron variant, will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers and will be available in the coming days and weeks.
How do I get my masks?
The masks will be available at community health centers and pharmacies nationwide. These will be the same pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which helped make COVID-19 vaccines available to the public. These include CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Publix, Costco, Albertsons and many others.
View the full list of participating pharmacies.
You must collect the masks in person, so call ahead. The N95 could arrive in late January, but most should be available at the tens of thousands of participating sites by early February at the latest. Three masks will be available for every adult in your household, according to a White House official.
What else should I know?
- The incoming N95 masks will not be child-sized. But according to Politico, the government is working to finally distribute masks to children. Watch this helpful video by Aaron Collins, a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science, for help finding the right mask for your child.
- Your N95 is good for about 40 hours of active use, Project 95’s Anne Miller told NPR. She also recommends using the “brown bag decontamination method”. If you use the mask all day, place it in a brown bag for five days to allow any virus particles to die off. Using this method, you could rotate your three new N95s for a total of 15 days.
- Watch out for fakes. If you can’t get an N95 mask direct from the government, be vigilant when looking for your own. Check out the CDC guide to spotting a fake N95. Your most trusted sources are larger companies like Armbrust or large stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, Miller said. When buying a mask from Amazon, stick to well-known brands like Kimberly-Clark or 3M.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.