Millions of free N95 masks now available to all Americans


michael_swan | flickr

Razia Islam, Science & Technology Editor

In response to recent omicron outbreaks, and in conjunction with the distribution of free at-home COVID-19 testing kits, the Biden administration will be giving away 400 million free N95 masks to all Americans.

The free N95 respirator masks are available at pharmacies and health centers nationwide.

“The N95s will be coming from the United States Strategic National Stockpile, which is the federal government’s reserve for crucial medicines and supplies for use during a public health emergency,” said Muizz Akhtar of Vox.

With the rise of omicron variant outbreaks in several states, health experts advise it is more important than ever to protect oneself against COVID-19 through the use of effective masks.

At the beginning of the pandemic, cloth masks were recommended by health experts. But new data suggests that cloth masks “can filter large droplets, while more effective masks, such as N95s, can filter both large droplets and the smaller aerosols or particles potentially laden with airborne virus if infected people are present,” according to CNN.

Public health experts at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that N95 masks offer people the most protection against COVID-19. It is especially important for those who are high risk to wear respirator masks instead of the less effective surgical or cloth alternatives.

In-person distribution of these N95 masks began early last week, and the program will be fully running in early February.

N95 respirator masks are not only more effective at limiting the spread of the virus, but are more expensive in comparison to their reusable, cloth counterparts causing hesitancy among many in committing to such a big purchase.

“Three masks will be available per person to ensure broad access. Most of the pharmacies that are part of the federal pharmacy vaccine program will distribute the masks,” according to a White House official who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

Some pharmacies that are included in this program include Costco Wholesale Corp., CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid Corp., Walgreens and Duane Reade.

The three mask limit has upset a hefty amount of people. At the time of distribution, there are only adult-sized N95s available as the masks are not regulated for children.

Luckily, N95 masks are reusable to an extent.

“Based on the five-day rule for health workers, and assuming they wear the mask all day over an eight-hour shift, that suggests about 40 hours of use per mask,” Anne Miller, the executive director at Project N95, told The New York Times.

It is important to note that masks that are constantly taken off will become soiled before 40 hours.

Furthermore, according to Miller, people should follow the “brown bag decontamination method” prior to reusing their N95 mask.

Ideally, a N95 mask should be placed into a brown paper bag or hung up and left to air out for five days, effectively killing off any viral particles before reuse.

To ensure the best protection from any mask, “people should wear the most protective mask they can wear that fits well and that they will wear consistently,”the CDC said.

Additionally, the CDC recommends that a single N95 mask should not be worn more than 5 times.

All masks, from surgical masks to respirator masks, should be worn both indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status at this time.