Walgreens, CVS and other Chicago-area pharmacies and retailers are set to begin distribution of free N95 masks this week as part of a Biden administration initiative to battle a surge in COVID-19 cases related to the omicron variant.
A total of 400 million masks from the Strategic National Stockpile will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers enrolled in the nationwide Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
Shipments were slated to begin this week, and the administration hopes to have the program fully operational by early February, a White house official said.
Deerfield-based Walgreens, one of the program's participants, has said it will make masks of varying sizes available to the public "in the near future," but didn't provide an exact date.
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“We are pleased to partner with the administration to make N95 masks in varying sizes available free of charge at select Walgreens locations nationwide while supplies last,” a company spokesperson said. “We know masks are an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Similarly, CVS said it will begin offering free N95 masks at pharmacy locations in the coming weeks.
"...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 necessary to combat COVID-19, including testing, vaccines, and authorized therapies," a CVS spokesperson said in a statement, in part.
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 next week.
Walmart plans to make masks available starting late next week at the front of select Walmart and Sam's Club stores, according to a statement provided by the retailer.
"From the beginning of the pandemic, we have worked to meet the needs of our communities and help keep them safe and healthy by setting-up COVID testing sites, administering tens of millions of vaccines and boosters, and dispensing authorized COVID-19 oral antiviral medications," the statement read, in part. "We are proud to continue to serve our customers, members and associates now through N95 mask distribution as part of the US Federal Retail Pharmacy Program."
Those who pick up masks will be limited to three per person, federal officials have said.
The CDC updated its mask guidance last week and recommended that residents wear properly-fitted N95 and KN95 masks, as those coverings have been shown to be more effective at protecting individuals from the omicron variant.
Cloth masks can still be worn, according to officials.