Some of the 400 million non-surgical N95 masks the U.S. government promised to provide for free have arrived at drug stores.
For example, Midwestern grocery chain Meijer had received 3 million of the masks – which are listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the best masks for preventing COVID-19 infection – according to The Washington Post.
Masks were provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the outlet.
According to Kevin Munoz, assistant White House press secretary, there is a limit of three free masks per individual. Pharmacies plan to monitor who picks up the masks.
Hy-Vee, another Midwestern supermarket chain, also announced it was offering the free masks this week.
So far, there haven’t been issues with people trying to take more than the allocated number of N95 masks at Hy-Vee locations, a company spokesperson told CNN Monday.
“Each Hy-Vee store has designated employees to personally hand out up to three masks per person; we haven't had an issue with people attempting to take more than the limit of three provided by HHS,” Christina Gayman, a spokesperson for Hy-Vee, wrote in an email to the outlet.
Hy-Vee grocery stores in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska have already received the masks, as well as Meijer stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin, according to CNN.
In a tweet, Vice President Kamala Harris explained that funds from the Strategic National Stockpile were used to make the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved masks available at pharmacies and community health centers.
CDC data from the day of Harris’ tweet showed that there had been a 5 percent increase in cases over the previous seven-day period. Recent data also shows that the omicron variant of COVID-19, which is highly transmissible, is the most dominant strain of the virus in the U.S.
According to the CDC, loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection against COVID-19.
“Layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” said the centers.
As of Tuesday, 20-packs of the masks were available on Amazon for around $17 to $22.
CNN reported that the federal free mask distribution program should be fully up-and-running by early next month.
By Friday, Southeastern Grocers and Walgreens locations should have free masks in stock.
“We are pleased to partner with the Administration to make N95 masks in varying sizes available free of charge at participating Walgreens locations while supplies last,” a Walgreens spokesperson wrote in an email to CNN on Monday.
Additionally, pharmacies at CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid, Publix, Walmart, Sam's Club Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket, Winn-Dixie and more are expected to have free N95 masks.
“Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated continue to be the top defense tools in our nation’s fight against COVID-19. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the free non-surgical N95 masks and make an appointment today to get vaccinated or boosted,” said Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger's chief medical officer.
Community health centers are expected to distribute masks on a smaller scale, said CNN. Amy Simmons Farber, a spokesperson for the National Association of Community Health Centers, said Monday that the first 100 centers participating in the mask rollout will also start this week, according to the outlet.
Farber said the Health Resources and Services Administration expects masks will be available to all health centers by mid-February.