Some Charlotte-area pharmacies are set to distribute free N95 masks as part of the Biden’s administration’s effort to stave off a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant.
A total of 400 million masks from the Strategic National Stockpile will be shipped to pharmacies nationwide, White House officials said earlier this month. The program is not expected to be fully operational until February.
N95 masks, which can filter out more than 95% of air particles, “offer the highest level of protection” against COVID-19, according to updated guidelines from the CDC.
Where can I find N95 masks?
The masks will be available at a number of participating pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart according to the CDC.
Here’s when each store will begin distributing masks:
CVS said in an emailed statement that masks will be available at locations in the coming weeks as supply is shipped by the government.
Stores will begin offering masks on Friday, and “will continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following,” a Walgreens spokesperson said. Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability.
Rite Aid plans to begin distributing masks in some stores later this week, with all stores receiving them by early February, the company said. Costumers will be able to pick up masks at an in-store display or the pharmacy counter while supplies last.
Masks should be available by the second week of February at more than 5,100 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations across the country, Walmart told the Observer in an emailed statement.
How many masks can I get?
Every person is allowed up to three free masks, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Should I ditch my cloth masks?
With the omicron variant leading to a spike in COVID-19 cases across North Carolina, some health experts are encouraging people to consider using other types of masks to reduce infection risk.
The face coverings of choice — primarily N95 or KN95 masks — are advertised to provide more protection against the highly contagious variant more so than cloth or surgical masks.
A recent study by The National Center for Biotechnology Information found that surgical masks are 95% effective at filtering out virus particles, compared to just 37% for cloth masks.
However, another study published in Aerosol and Air Quality Research concluded that layering a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask provides more protection than cloth alone.
Observer reporter Mary Ramsey contributed to this story.