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Free N95 masks are arriving at pharmacies and grocery stores. Here's how to get yours

Linsey Jones, a medical assistant working at a drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic, wears an N95 mask on Jan. 4, in Puyallup, Wash. The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting this week.
Ted S. Warren
/
AP
Linsey Jones, a medical assistant working at a drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic, wears an N95 mask on Jan. 4, in Puyallup, Wash. The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting this week.

Updated January 26, 2022 at 11:18 AM ET

Nearly a week after the Biden administration announced it will deploy 400 million free N95 masks to the public, the high-quality face coverings are starting to arrive at pharmacies and grocery stores.

"Every person is allowed up to 3 free masks pending availability," the Department of Health and Human Services states.

The White House launched its latest effort to combat COVID-19 following new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC now says cloth masks are no longer as effective in preventing the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus and that people should wear an N95 or KN95 mask.

The coveted nonsurgical N95 masks are coming from the Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of them on hand. The program, which is also distributing the free masks to community health centers around the country, is ramping up in coming days and should be up and fully operational by early February.

Where can I get mine?

On Monday, Meijer, which operates more than 250 groceries and pharmacies throughout the Midwest, said the stores had received an estimated 3 million masks.

"The N95 masks will be in boxes set on a table near the Meijer Greeter stand of the grocery entrance," the company said. "The Greeter, who will be wearing gloves, will place the N95 masks in piles of three for the customers to take."

Kroger stores with pharmacies will also be doling out the masks throughout the chain's Midwest and Southwest locations. Spokeswoman Kristal Howard said the first allotment of masks is expected to arrive on Thursday.

Walgreens is also participating in the distribution program, and on Tuesday, spokesman Scott Goldberg told NPR the masks will be made available for free while supplies last.

"We expect the first stores to begin offering masks on Friday, Jan. 28 and will continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following," Goldberg said, explaining that customers are limited to three masks per person. "Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability."

Similarly, CVS Pharmacy locations will also be offering free N95 masks in the coming weeks, spokesman Matt Blanchette told NPR.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 25, 2022 at 11:00 PM CST
A section about the timing for community health centers to distribute the masks has been removed. It was based on outdated information from February 2021. A link to a list of participating retailers has also been deleted. That link was actually to a list of participants in the federal retail pharmacy program for COVID-19 vaccinations. While most of those pharmacies are also participating in the free N95 mask distribution, a full list of participants is not yet available.
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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.