Walgreens is preparing to begin distributing free N95 masks this week, but when exactly can customers expect to be able to get one and how will they know which stores have them?
According to the Illinois-based pharmacy chain, the first stores to offer up free masks are expected to begin distribution as early as Friday.
"We expect the first stores to begin offering masks on Friday, January 28 and will continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following," a spokesperson for the company told NBC 5 in a statement. "Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability."
A total of 400 million N95 masks will be made available for free starting this week as U.S. health officials assert the importance of wearing highly-protective face coverings during the current omicron surge.
The Biden administration previously announced plans to partner with pharmacies and community health centers to distribute masks from the country's Strategic National Stockpile.
While shipments were expected to begin last week, the program likely won't be fully operational until early February.
Masks will be distributed at health centers and pharmacies enrolled in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, a nationwide program that relies on such entities to help expand COVID-19 vaccine access.
Each resident will be limited to three masks per person to ensure broad access to the program, according to a White House official.
CVS said it will begin offering free N95 masks at pharmacy locations in the coming weeks.
A spokeswoman for Kroger, which operates the Chicago-area supermarket chain Mariano's, said stores with pharmacies will serve as distribution points for N95 masks, and more details will be shared this week.
Walmart plans to make masks available starting late this week at the front of select Walmart and Sam's Club stores, according to a statement provided by the retailer.
Here's a list of where you'll be able to find a free N95 mask in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Albertsons Companies (including Osco, Jewel-Osco and other subsidiaries)
- CPESN USA
- Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation’s pharmacy services administrative organization (PSAO), Elevate Provider Network
- Health Mart Pharmacies
- LeaderNET and The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, Cardinal Health’s PSAOs
- The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save and other brands under the company)
- Piggy Wiggly
- Walmart (including Sam’s Club)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on masks for the general public Jan. 14, saying people "may choose" to wear N95 and KN95 masks because they offer the best protection against Covid. But the agency stopped short of recommending that people seek out certain masks over others.
During the early days of the pandemic, people in the U.S. were urged to leave N95 masks and the KN95 versions made in China for health care workers, according to NBC News. But since then, the U.S. has bolstered its manufacturing capacity, and the country now has a stockpile of 750 million N95 masks as part of the Strategic National Stockpile for health care workers.
Some members of Congress have pressured Biden to more aggressively address the financial cost of Covid tests and masks to shift the burden away from U.S. households. The N95 masks can sell for as little as $1 and be reused several times, but they can add up to be more expensive than reusable cloth masks over time.