Federal government’s distribution of 400M free N95 masks begins across country

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 7:48 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2022 at 11:51 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Starting this week, the federal government is distributing 400 million N95 masks to retail pharmacies and health centers around the country.

Once they arrive, Americans will be able to grab up to three of these masks per person for free.

The beginning of this availability comes as the CDC has recently updated its masking recommendations, advising people to wear the most protective mask they can find that they will wear consistently and that fits well.

Public health guidance remains that any mask is better than no mask, but they do not all offer the same amount of protection.

According to the CDC, loosely woven cloth masks offer the least protection against COVID, while layered, finely woven cloth masks are better, as are disposable surgical masks that fit your face. With the latter two coverings, the CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask with a surgical mask underneath to be more protected.

KN95s are also more protective, but well-fitting, approved respirators, like N95s, are the most protective.

“They need to fit well over your nose and mouth, and they’re really designed not to allow any air to escape, and for some people, that can be a little uncomfortable, but if you’re wearing the mask well, you shouldn’t have your glasses fogging up. You shouldn’t be able to feel air leaking around the face mask,” DHEC Medical Consultant Dr. Jonathan Knoche said of N95s.

Earlier in the pandemic, N95s were much harder to find, and the general public was asked to preserve the limited supply for healthcare workers.

Now, the Biden administration said more than 750 million N95 masks were in the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile before this distribution began and that more than 350 million will still remain there once it wraps up, which is nearly 20 times more N95s than healthcare workers in the United States.

“Obviously now that manufacturing is up and there are hundreds of millions of masks available in a setting where there’s widespread COVID, those recommendations change based on what the science is and the situation is,” Knoche said.

People who use the free N95s should be able to get multiple wears out of them, according to Knoche.

“As long as the mask is of good quality — people aren’t rubbing it and damaging it — it can be worn more than a day,” he said.

DHEC said it does not know how many of these masks will be sent to South Carolina or when this distribution will begin, as it is not involved in this process.

In South Carolina, the following pharmacies will be giving out masks once they receive them as part of their participation in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination:

  • Costco Wholesale Corp.
  • CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (including Long’s)
  • Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation’s pharmacy services administrative organization (PSAO), Elevate Provider Network
  • Health Mart Pharmacies
  • LeaderNET and The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, Cardinal Health’s PSAOs
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc.
  • Retail Business Services, LLC (including Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford Bros Co, Stop & Shop)
  • The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market, QFC)
  • Topco Associates, LLC (including Acme Fresh Markets, Associated Food Stores, Bashas, Big-Y Pharmacy and Wellness Center, Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Super One Pharmacy, FRESH by Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Coborn’s Pharmacy, Cash Wise Pharmacy, MarketPlace Pharmacy, Giant Eagle, Hartig Drug Company, King Kullen, Food City Pharmacy, Ingles Pharmacy, Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Pharmacies, Save Mart Pharmacies, Lucky Pharmacies, SpartanNash, Price Chopper, Market 32, Tops Friendly Markets, ShopRite, Wegmans, Weis Markets, Inc.)
  • Walgreens (including Duane Reade)
  • Walmart, Inc. (including Sam’s Club)

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