The Biden administration’s free mask program is officially underway, with plans to hand out 400 million N95 masks distributed to pharmacies and community health centers throughout the US. The initiative comes as the Omicron variant is still spreading across the country—a crucial time to stock up on the proper masks for public indoor environments. Below, we break down where and when you can pick up free masks, how many are allotted per person, and more.
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Where Can You Find Free N95 Masks?
Unlike the free at-home Covid-19 rapid tests, you cannot order free N95 masks online. You’ll have to pick them up in person at a local pharmacy or community health center.
Up to three N95 masks will be available per person. Most locations will be distributing masks as stock comes in. They’ll be available on a first-come-first-serve basis. You also won’t be required to show proof of identification to receive your set of masks.
The program officially started at the end of January, but many locations should receive masks in February. Regardless, you may want to call your local retailer before making the trip. You should also ask a sales associate in-store since some locations may keep stock behind the register. Some locations may also have signage on the status of mask availability.
These retailers and pharmacies have free N95 masks (check your US state):
Health centers supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will also receive N95 masks. According to the HRSA, the first phase of the program will distribute masks to about 100 to 200 health centers across the country. It plans to expand the program to more health centers in the coming weeks. You can check here for a list of health centers that are part of the first phase of the program.
Wait, What Is an N95 Mask?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “well-fitting [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health]-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.” Also known as specialized filtering masks, N95s have the ability to filter out 95 percent of airborne particles—including Covid-19—when worn properly. And since most data suggests the Omicron variant is more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 variant, a lot of health experts don’t recommend using cloth masks, making an N95 mask a great replacement.