Many stores are expected to offer free N95 masks this week



White House officials last week pledged to provide 400 million certified N95 masks for free to Americans in an effort to strengthen the nation’s defenses against COVID-19. But consumers may have to shop around to get one.

Major pharmacy chains said they expected to start distributing free face coverings this week. The effort comes as public health experts encourage the use of higher-quality masks, including N95 respirators.

Well-equipped N95 respirators filter 95% of airborne particles, and KN95 respirators provide the same level of protection. Cloth masks, or any other visor that don’t fit snugly, are much less likely to protect against COVID-19.

A spokesman for Hy-Vee, a supermarket chain across the Midwest and Southern US states, said the first batch of government-issued N95 masks retailed for about $3 to $5 each. arrived on Friday.

A company spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch: “At this time, many Hy-Vee pharmacies have received and are distributing their masks.

All 275 Hy-Vee pharmacies in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin are expected to have masks in stock by mid-week, the spokesperson added. Hy-Vee is part of the Federal Retail Pharmaceutical Program (FRPP), which was established to expand access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

A retail employee at a Hy-vee grocery store in Iowa City, Iowa, said they received a shipment of government-issued N95 masks Monday afternoon. The employee told CBS MoneyWatch.

CVS Pharmacy, which is also part of the FRPP, said it will have free N95 masks in stores in the “coming weeks” as shipments from the government arrive. On Monday, there were no free N95 masks to pick up at any CVS drugstore nationwide.

“Our work to distribute high-quality masks as part of this program is an extension of our commitment to providing equitable access to the tools needed to fight COVID. -19, including authorized testing, vaccines and therapies,” a spokesperson said in a statement. CBS MoneyWatch.

Walgreens, another FRPP partner, said it expects some of its stores to start stocking N95s this Friday. A spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch the masks will be provided as long as supplies are available. Each customer will be limited to three masks.

Another national grocery chain, Kroger, expects its pharmacies to receive an allocation of N95 masks later this week.

Dr Marc Watkins, Kroger’s chief medical officer, said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch: “I encourage everyone to get their free non-surgical N95 respirator and make an appointment today for a vaccination or boost. strengthen health.

The parent company of a grocery store that owns Fresco y Más, Harveys and Winn-Dixie Supermarkets, said its in-store pharmacies will carry 2 million government-issued N95 masks as early as Friday, distribute them “as available and while supplies last.”

Largest PPE rollout in US history

The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness & Response, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said last week it has 750 million NIOSH-certified N95 respirators in the Strategic National Stockpile and will have more. back a lot – 350 million – for health. staff take care after it make disbursement.

The ASPR began shipping masks to pharmacies and community health centers on Thursday, said Dawn O’Connell, Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response, US Department of Health and Human Services. know in a statement last week.

“It’s one way we make higher-quality masks for the American people,” she said in the statement.

The effort marks “the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in US history,” the ASPR also noted.

Brian Wolin, CEO of Protective Health Gear, a NIOSH-approved N95 maker based in New Jersey, said the initiative could affect the company’s sales initially. But he sees the role of private suppliers in meeting the nation’s continued demand for high-quality masks.

Wolin told CBS MoneyWatch: “As a domestic producer, we really hope to be part of the long-term solution in filling and keeping the National Stockpile adequate for future demand. .

In addition to pharmacies, community health centers serving the majority of Americans will also provide free masks. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, between 100 and 200 medical centers will receive the Strategic National Reserve masks during the initial phase of the program. They expect to start distributing the masks before the end of January.

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