CHARLOTTE, N.C. — People can soon get their hands on free N95 masks at local retailers. The U.S. is giving away 400 million N95 masks from the national stockpile, with many going to companies with the nation's vaccine partner program.
According to updated CDC guidance, N95 respirators are better equipped to filter out COVID-19 particles before a person breathes them in, and while health officials say that any mask is better than no mask, they say people might elect to choose N95s in certain high-risk settings, like when caring for someone else who is infected and while on public transportation, including planes and buses.
Where are N95s available?
Since White House officials say mask distribution is going through federal vaccine partners, people will likely find these masks at some of the same retailers they received their COVID-19 shot.
Charlotte-area retailers on the federal list include Costco, CVS, Publix, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Walgreens and Walmart.
When are N95s available?
Mask availability varies by retailer, but some Walgreens stores could have them starting Friday, Jan. 27.
The company writes that the giveaway will "continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following. Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability."
Several other retailers state that supplies will be ready in the coming weeks.
What's included in the giveaway?
White House officials say every adult is entitled to three masks. There are no N95s available for children, but those could be coming soon.
The program should be fully rolled out by February.
How do I care for my N95?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends on its website that people should wear N95 masks no more than five times.
Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who specializes in pulmonary and critical care medicine, said the length of time a person can reuse KN95 and N95 masks depends on how they are wearing them.
“If you’re a casual person who needs it to go out somewhere for a few minutes, I would just probably suggest wearing it until you see it soiled or dampened,” Galiatsatos said.
People should store the masks in a brown paper bag between uses, which will allow them to dry out. It will also keep the masks clean from any dust in your home.