Last month, President Biden announced that Americans could start receiving N95 masks at no charge from retailers and health centers starting Jan. 23, but most retailers at that time were still waiting for shipments of these free masks to arrive.
Since then, however, more of the 400 million N95 masks have been distributed to pharmacies and retailers, and are now available to consumers.
To receive the masks, you have to pick them up in-store or at a participating community health center. Search for one near you here.
However, not all health centers are giving out N95s and some are prioritizing distribution for underserved communities, so you might want to start with pharmacies and other retailers first.
Most of the pharmacies that are part of the federal pharmacy vaccine program will distribute the masks, but not all of them. Major chains that are handing out N95s include:
- Fred Meyer
- Health Mart
- Rite Aid
- Sam's Club
- Shop Rite
- Stop & Shop
- Walgreens (Duane Reade)
These masks are in high demand, so you'll also want to call your local retailer first, and confirm whether masks are actually in stock.
Also, be aware that many retailers will have their masks behind the counter, so you'll likely have to request the masks directly with an employee. There's a limit of three masks per person, and guidance on mask usage is available from the CDC.
The CDC updated its mask guidance last month and now recommends high-filtration masks over cloth-based masks. While the CDC doesn't explicitly recommend N95s, they do say that they offer the "highest level of protection," followed by similar respirator masks like the KN95 and KF94 or well-fitting disposable surgical masks. Cloth masks offer the "least amount of protection," according to the CDC.
You can also get free four at-home Covid-19 test kits at no charge, which can be ordered online at www.covidtests.gov.
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