On the heels of offering four free COVID-19 tests to all American households, the U.S. government recently announced it will distribute 400 million free N95 masks to the public.
The masks, which the CDC says provide 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 across the country. These will be the same pharmacies that participate in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which helped provide COVID-19 vaccines to the public. This includes CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Publix, Costco, Albertsons, and many others.
You’ll need to pick up the masks in person, so make sure to call ahead. The N95s could start arriving in late January, but most should be available no later than early February at the tens of thousands of participating locations. Three masks will be available for each adult in your household, according to a White House official.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
- The incoming N95 masks will not be child-sized. But, according to Politico, the government is working to eventually distribute masks for kids. Watch this helpful video by Aaron Collins, a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosols science, for help in finding the right mask for your child.
- Your N95 is good for about 40 hours of active use, Anne Miller, of Project 95, told NPR. She also recommends using the “brown bag decontamination method.” If you’re using the mask all day, put it in a brown bag for five days to allow any viral particles to die. With this method, you could rotate through your three new N95s for a total of 15 days.
- Watch out for fakes. If you’re unable to get an N95 mask directly from the government, be alert while looking for your own. Check out the CDC’s guide on spotting a fake N95. Your most trustworthy sources will be larger companies like Armbrust, or big-box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s, Miller said. If you buy a mask on Amazon, stick to well-known brands like Kimberly-Clark or 3M.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.