Federal government distribution of 400 million free N95 masks begins across the country

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Starting this week, the federal government is distributing 400 million N95 masks to retail pharmacies and health centers across the country.

Once there, Americans will be able to pick up up to three of these masks per person for free.

The start of this availability comes as the CDC recently updated its masking recommendations, advising people to wear the most protective mask they can find, that they will wear regularly and that fits them well.

Public health advice remains that any mask is better than no mask, but not all of them offer the same protection.

According to the CDC, loosely woven cloth masks offer the least protection against COVID, while thinly woven, layered cloth masks are better, as are disposable surgical masks that conform to your face. With these last two coverings, the CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask with a surgical mask underneath for better protection.

KN95s are also more protective, but properly fitted and approved respirators, such as N95s, are the most protective.

“They have to fit well over your nose and mouth, and they’re really designed not to let any air escape, and for some people that might be a bit uncomfortable, but if you wear the mask well, you shouldn’t your goggles fog up. You shouldn’t feel air leaking around the face mask,” DHEC medical consultant Dr. Jonathan Knoche said of the N95s.

Earlier in the pandemic, N95s were much harder to come by and the general public was urged to preserve the limited supply for healthcare workers.

Now, the Biden administration has said that more than 750 million N95 masks were in the country’s strategic national stockpile before this distribution began and that more than 350 million will remain there once it ends, which is almost 20 times more than N95 than healthcare workers in the United States.

“Obviously now that manufacturing is on the rise and there are hundreds of millions of masks available in a setting where COVID is prevalent, these recommendations change based on the science and the situation,” said Knoche.

According to Knoche, people who use the free N95s should be able to use them multiple times.

“As long as the mask is of good quality – people don’t rub it and damage it – it can be worn for more than a day,” he said.

DHEC said it does not know how many of those masks will be sent to South Carolina or when that distribution will begin because it is not involved in that process.

In South Carolina, the following pharmacies will distribute masks once they receive them as part of their participation in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Immunization:

  • Costco Wholesale Corp.
  • CPESN USA, LLC
  • CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (including Long’s)
  • Good Neighbor Pharmacy and the Pharmacy Services Administrative Organization (PSAO) of AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Elevate Provider Network
  • Pharmacies Health Mart
  • LeaderNET and The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, PSAO of Cardinal Health
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc.
  • Retail Business Services, LLC (including Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford Bros Co, Stop & Shop)
  • The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market, QFC)
  • Topco Associates, LLC (including Acme Fresh Markets, Associated Food Stores, Bashas, ​​Big-Y Pharmacy and Wellness Center, Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Super One Pharmacy, FRESH by Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Coborn’s Pharmacy, Cash Wise Pharmacy, MarketPlace Pharmacy, Giant Eagle, Hartig Drug Company, King Kullen, Food City Pharmacy, Ingles Pharmacy, Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Pharmacies, Save Mart Pharmacies, Lucky Pharmacies, SpartanNash, Price Chopper, Market 32, Tops Friendly Markets, ShopRite, Wegmans, Weis Markets , Inc.)
  • Walgreens (including Duane Reade)
  • Walmart, Inc. (including Sam’s Club)

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