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Some governments in other parts of the world have been providing free tests and masks for a while. The U. S. just got on board with the trend last week, promising to send four rapid tests to each household (you just need to request them at covidtests.gov). Now, we’re getting free N95 masks—but only three per adult.

The masks won’t be sent to people’s homes, but instead will be available at the same pharmacies and health clinics that participate in the COVID vaccine program. So wherever you got your shot or your booster, that’s a good place to check for free masks when they become available.

When will that be? White House officials said that masks will start shipping to these locations at the end of next week, so late January. The promise is for three masks per adult, with masks for children to come later. (NIOSH-approved N95’s do not come in children’s sizes.)

The masks are coming from the National Strategic Stockpile, which reportedly contains 750 million masks. The number being shared with media is that 400 million masks are going to be sent out as part of this program. (For comparison, the free rapid tests are supposed to total 500 million, although as of that announcement, the government had only procured 420 million.)

Walgreens told a Chicago news station that the masks will be available “while supplies last,” which makes me imagine a bucket labeled “take one,” but the full details of the distribution plan have not yet been announced.

Even though three masks is not a lot, the good news is that any N95-style respirator (or even a surgical mask) is better than a cloth mask. And it’s also acceptable, if not ideal, to reuse N95s by storing them in paper bags and rotating to a fresh one each day.

 



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