Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its masking guidance to recommend that people wear “the most protective mask” they can. While the agency stopped short of suggesting one type of mask over another, they explained N95 respirators and KN95 masks offer more protection against the highly transmissible omicron variant than surgical and cloth masks.
A few days later, on Jan. 18, the White House announced the Biden administration was going to make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks available to Americans for free to help protect them against omicron. VERIFY viewer Susan wanted to know whether she could pick up the free N95 masks at a local drugstore in her community and how many she could receive.
Are free N95 masks from the federal government now available at local pharmacies in the U.S.?
- The White House
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)
Yes, millions of free N95 masks from the federal government are now available at tens of thousands of local pharmacies and health centers across the U.S.
WHAT WE FOUND
The federal government began shipping out the 400 million free non-surgical N95 masks to tens of thousands of local pharmacies and community health centers nationwide on Jan. 20, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The Biden administration is leveraging the federal retail pharmacy program and the federal community health center program to ensure access is easy and convenient.
The HHS says it has tripled the number of N95 masks being held in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to more than 750 million since January 2021. Now, millions of adult-sized NIOSH-approved masks have already been sent out to participating pharmacies and health centers across the country.
HHS officials say there is a limit of three free N95 masks per person through the program, which was fully up and running by early February. Details on how often people will be able to receive the free masks is not yet available.
Midwest-based grocery chain Meijer confirmed the company had already received three million masks in late January. Meanwhile, grocery and pharmacy chains, such as Albertsons, CVS, Walmart and Walgreens, started distributing masks to customers in early February. The initial phase of the program is already underway at hundreds of health centers nationwide and will continue on a rolling basis, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA).