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Where you can get free N95 masks from the government program

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Where you can get free N95 masks from the government program

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(NEXSTAR) – Last week, the Biden administration unveiled a new program making 400 million N95 masks freely available to Americans after health workers inspired the use of these masks over cloth face coverings to fight against the omicron variant COVID-19.

The masks come from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile where more than 750 million of them are kept. Unlike free at-home COVID-19 test kits delivered to your door, you’ll need to visit a local pharmacy or health center to pick up your free masks.

Ahead of President Joe Biden’s announcement of the free mask program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance stating that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks likely offer the most safety.

Where to find the free masks

Nexstar has reached out to major pharmacy chains to see if they are participating, after they will begin distribution and how you can get your free N95 masks. Americans are limited to a few free N95 masks per person, according to the Biden administration.

Albertson: Albertsons, which owns Safeway, Vons, Tom Thumb and many others, confirmed that it will participate in the federal government’s mask distribution “in the coming weeks.” A spokesperson said the company is still committed to its distribution plan.

CV: CVS said it may begin offering free N95 masks under the program “as we receive supplies from the federal government.” The pharmacy chain did not provide details on the timing.

Hy-Vee: The Midwest retailer told Nexstar it has begun obtaining and distributing its first shipments of N95 masks to its stores. All 275 Hy-Vee pharmacies in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin could have masks by Wednesday, January 26.

Kroger: A spokesperson for Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less and more than a dozen different stores, told Nexstar its areas with pharmacies are participating in the program. The nation’s largest grocery chain expects its batch to arrive later this week. Customers are inspired to visit their nearest pharmacist for theirs.

Meijer: Midwest grocery chain Meijer has obtained about 3 million masks, the company said Monday, with many regions now distributing the masks. N95s can be found in containers found on a desk near the reception stand at the grocery store entrance of all Meijer stores. The boxes can be in stacks of three for customers to take away, the company explains.

Ritual Aid: Rite Aid said all of its regions could participate in the scheme, with some stores starting to distribute N95s this week. All stores should have masks on hand by early February, a spokesperson said. Customers will be able to purchase up to three masks per person at an in-store show or at the pharmacy counter, if possible.

Walgreens: The pharmacy chain has announced that it will begin distributing N95 masks in multiple sizes in stores from Friday, January 28, including additional play areas in the days and weeks ahead. Stores where the masks can be found may have signage indicating they are in stock, a Walgreens spokesperson said.

Walmart: Walmart, as well as Sam’s Club, may even offer free N95 masks, according to CNET. Both companies, owned by Walmart, are part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

Wegman: A spokesperson for Wegmans told Nexstar the company would participate in the federal N95 program, but was “awaiting further details” at press time.

For a list of the various retail chains and pharmacies participating in the federal retail pharmacy program, click here.

What to know about N95 masks

Early in the pandemic, N95 and KN95 masks were briefly provided, prompting the CDC to encourage their priority for healthcare workers. In its mid-January update on masking guidance, the CDC briefly raised concerns.

Instead, the company now recommends N95 or KN95 masks, saying they offer the best protection against COVID-19.

N95s are more fitted to your face than cloth masks and are made with special materials designed to retain 95% of dangerous particles. The fibers are pressed closer together than in cloth masks and have an electrostatic charge that attracts molecules to stay on the masks rather than pass through them. The KN95 and KF94 offer a similar level of protection.

Dr. Erica Swegler of Austin, Texas, told Nexstar’s KXAN that cloth masks became more obsolete when the delta variant emerged.

“The delta variant had somehow been able to escape this [cloth mask] barrier well enough, and it’s just not good enough,” Dr. Swegler said. “Somehow, [the virus] is able to penetrate through an ordinary cloth mask.

Instead, she suggests wearing an N95, KN95, or disposable surgical mask.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Where you can get free N95 masks from the government program

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