WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Free N95 Masks: As part of efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government will make 400 million non-surgical “N95” masks available to the public free of charge starting next week.
N95 face masks, which filter at least 95% of airborne particles, will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week and available for pickup late next week.
Besides using federally funded health clinics that serve minority groups affected by COVID, the U.S. government is leveraging its “federal retail pharmacy program,” used for vaccines.
Walgreens (WBA.O), which has over 9,000 stores and nearly 10,000 pharmacies, as well as CVS (CVS.N), will distribute free masks, company spokespeople reported.
As the Omicron virus rages across the country and hospitalizations surge, President Biden and his team have been criticized for not doing enough to foster masking and bolster testing.
On Wednesday, the administration also launched a website that provides free rapid home tests.
According to the official, this is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history. The masks, which retail for $1 to $2 online, are available for $1 to $2 on Amazon.
N95 masks, which form a seal around the nose and mouth, are considered to be especially effective at preventing the spread of viruses. In a statement released last week, the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that Americans wear the “most protective mask.”
The demand for N95 masks and other more protective masks has spiked recently.
Free N95 Masks Supply
Several executives told Reuters that healthcare supply chains remain fragile despite recovering from the N95 shortages of the early pandemic.
There were 747 million N95s in the U.S. government’s Strategic National Stockpile on Dec. 29, 59 times the level pre-pandemic, according to the Health and Human Services Department.
Reuters reported that U.S. mask makers have the machines to produce millions of N95s monthly.
Using factories in South Dakota, Nebraska and elsewhere, 3M (MMM.N), the largest manufacturer of N95 respirators in the United States, can produce more than 2 billion masks a year, spokesperson Jennifer Ehrlich said.
She confirmed that 3M has provided the federal and state governments with hundreds of millions of N95s for this purpose, and they will be replenished as needed.