By Jacqueline Howard and Betsy Klein, CNN
(CNN) – Just as free Covid-19 tests are landing in the mailboxes of people who ordered them, the first free N95 masks for the public have started arriving at US pharmacies, with more on the way. the next days.
The Biden administration is seeking to accelerate access to high-quality masks amid the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Meanwhile, the free tests began shipping last week and are part of the administration’s effort to increase access to testing in the United States.
Masks are already in place for distribution at select Hy-Vee and Meijer grocery stores in the Midwest, with more expected at Southeastern Grocers stores later this week.
“Last week the masks started shipping and arriving in pharmacies and grocers across (the) country. We expect that throughout the week the number of stores and N95s arriving will increase significantly,” an administration official told CNN on Monday.
The Biden administration announced last week that the 400 million N95 masks, which come from the National Strategic Stock, will be distributed to pharmacies and community health centers, with the program expected to be fully operational in early February. The masks arrive at their destination with accompanying flyers and signs from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which paid for the masks.
“Mask up and maximize your protection,” the flyers say, encouraging Americans to “help slow the spread of Covid by protecting yourself and those around you.”
The flyer, which is distributed in English and Spanish, notes that up to three of the free masks are “available to anyone in the United States.” He directs people to cdc.gov/coronavirus and includes a QR code with instructions on how to properly put on and take off the masks.
The masks are being rolled out just as some in the United States are receiving US Postal Service packages containing free Covid-19 antigen tests they ordered.
Gourjoine Wade of San Antonio, Texas, told CNN he ordered the tests the same day covidtests.gov posted last week. He wanted to have them on hand and ready for when they were needed.
“It’s another tool in the toolbox to keep myself, my family and our community safe,” Wade said.
Where the masks come
Some of the first masks arrived in the Midwest on Friday, including Hy-Vee grocery stores in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and stores Meijer of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. and Wisconsin.
The masks will also begin arriving at Southeastern Grocers stores as early as this Friday, the manager added, and will be available at Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie in-store pharmacies.
Mills Civic Hy-Vee in West Des Moines, Iowa received masks Friday, along with nearly 150 other Hy-Vee locations. Photos provided by the store show employees handing out the individually wrapped packets of masks, with flyers placed nearby for customers to take home.
“I can confirm that we began receiving and distributing our first shipments of N95 masks from HHS on Friday, January 21. As of now, many Hy-Vee pharmacies have received and are distributing their mask allocations. All 275 Hy-Vee pharmacies in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin will have masks by mid-week,” wrote Christina Gayman, spokeswoman for Hy-Vee, Inc., in an email to CNN on Monday.
“We have received many positive comments from customers who are happy that we have the masks and are distributing them so quickly. We still have masks available at all locations that have received them so far,” Gayman added.
In Meijer stores, masks will be placed on tables near store entrances and distributed by greeters. Meijer confirmed to CNN on Monday that he has received “approximately 3 million masks” which will be made available free of charge to any customer who needs them.
CVS pharmacies should also receive and begin distributing free N95 masks in the coming weeks as supplies from the federal government arrive, spokesperson Matt Blanchette told CNN in an email Monday.
Walgreens expects free N95 masks to be available at select locations starting this Friday, according to a company spokesperson.
“We are excited to partner with the administration to make N95 masks in various sizes available free of charge at participating Walgreens locations while supplies last,” a Walgreens spokesperson wrote in an email Monday. CNN.
“Customers and patients can pick up a maximum of three masks per person,” the email said. “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 thereafter. Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability. »
The first 100 community health centers participating in the rollout of the federal government’s free N95 mask program will also begin this week, wrote Amy Simmons Farber, spokeswoman for the National Association of Community Health Centers in an email to CNN. Monday. the Administration of health resources and services or HRSA oversees the Community Health Centers program for the federal government and notes on its website that the HRSA Health Center COVID-19 N95 Mask Program will begin gradually, providing N95 masks to approximately 100 to 200 health centers in the initial phase.
“These health centers should receive and start distributing masks before the end of January 2022,” according to HRSA. Farber added that by mid-February, HRSA expects masks to be made available to all health centers.
“For now, the program is limited to around 300 community health centers to ensure the logistics of receiving, storing and distributing the masks. Our understanding is that the program will expand to include more health centers as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure underserved communities have equitable access to public health tools,” Farber wrote in the email. .
“Our understanding is that these selected health centers should receive the masks by the end of January,” Farber wrote. “Each individual health center will need time to develop a distribution plan and a notification process for patients. If you are a patient, check your local health center’s website for announcements. Keep in mind that most healthcare systems are at capacity and workers are suffering from pandemic burnout – and healthcare centers are no exception. Try to avoid overwhelming call centers for now.
Masks are ‘biggest rollout’ yet
This deployment of free masks has been called the federal government’s “largest deployment” to date.
“This effort represents the largest deployment of the Strategic National Stockpile to date and it is also the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” Dawn O’Connell, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and response to HHS. written in a blog post Friday.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not plan to change their tips on using the mask as the administration ramps up access to these masks.
The CDC recommends that Americans wear well-fitting masks, which can include multiple layers of cloth, N95, or K95 masks.
“Masking is an essential public health tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it’s important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the CDC said in a statement early in the week. month.
“Some masks and respirators offer higher levels of protection than others, and some may be more difficult to tolerate or wear regularly than others,” CDC guidelines say. “It is very important to wear a properly fitted mask or respirator that is comfortable for you and provides good protection.”
By having a better fit and certain materials – such as polypropylene fibers – acting as both mechanical and electrostatic barriers, N95 masks help to better prevent tiny particles from entering the nose or mouth and should be adjusted to the face to work properly.
“The CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask. And we encourage all Americans to wear a properly fitted mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of Covid-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters during a briefing earlier this month. . “And that recommendation is not going to change.”
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