If you’ve been struggling to find affordable N95 masks – or any N95 masks at all – help is on the way. Back in January, the Biden administration announced it would be distributing 400 million free N95 masks to Americans at thousands of local pharmacies and community health centers across the country.
N95 masks are protective face coverings designed to filter at least 95% of all airborne particles larger than 0.3 microns. Health experts maintain they offer far more protection than cloth masks. "Well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection," the Centers for Disease Control has stated about the protective masks.
According to the CDC, the Strategic National Stockpile has begun to dole out multiple styles of non-surgical N95 respirators from the brands 3M, Draeger, Honeywell and Moldex, to pharmacy distribution centers.
Where to get free N95 masks
The first batch of N95 masks started arriving at major pharmacy chains last week and will continue to be distributed in the coming weeks. Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), each person is allowed up to three free masks, "pending availability."
To take advantage of the program, visit a participating pharmacy. The following major retailers have announced free N95 mask availability.
- Walgreens: On Jan. 28, Walgreens announced the arrival of free N95 masks in limited stores. "Masks have begun to roll out to the first wave of stores and will continue to roll out into additional stores in the coming days and weeks," the company stated. "We anticipate all participating stores will receive supply by mid-February." Walgreens included a list of its stores where masks are available, specifying that customers are limited to three masks each, while supplies last.
- Hy-Vee: A spokesperson for the supermarket chain, which is a participant in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program (FRPP), told CBS MoneyWatch that initial shipments of free N95 masks had arrived. "Many Hy-Vee pharmacy locations have received and are distributing their mask allocations," a company spokesperson told the outlet. The company said all pharmacies in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin are expected to have masks.
- CVS: CVS Pharmacy, also part of the FRPP, told CBS MoneyWatch that free N95 masks will hit stores in "coming weeks." Meantime, masks are currently available to order at a cost on the CVS website. "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 spokesperson said in a statement.
- Sam's Club
- Kroger: The national grocery chain also expects to distribute N95 masks at stores with pharmacies in the next week. "I encourage everyone to take advantage of the free nonsurgical N95 masks and make an appointment today to get vaccinated or boosted," Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger's chief medical officer, said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.
- Southeastern Grocers (Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie)
- Albertsons: Albertsons will also distribute N95 masks, which should be available at Albertsons stores this week, a spokesperson for the grocery chain told CBS MoneyWatch.
If you need a reliable supply of N95 face masks for daily use, you'll still need to find a way to buy them. And, given that only adult-sized masks are available as part of the free program, people looking for KN95 or KF94 masks for children will still need to buy them, as well.
(Confused by terminology? You can learn more about the difference between N95, KN95, surgical and cloth masks here.)
If you're looking to purchase N95 masks for quick delivery, here are some options:
Honeywell DC300 N95 particulate disposable respirators (20 pack)
This new Honeywell design is made to fit more face shapes and minimize pressure points. It comes in a pack of 20.
Kimberly-Clark professional N95 pouch respirator (50 pack)
If you like buying masks in bulk, this 50-pack from Kimberly-Clark offers large breathing chambers for comfort and soft but strong headbands -- and offers one of the best per-mask prices around. After a short period of unavailability, these N95 masks are back in stock at Amazon for quick shipping, so grab them before they sell out (again).
3M N95 8210 respirator mask (20 pack)
These 3M masks prevent eyewear fogging and have a foam cushion for maximum comfort on your nose.
N95 disposable multi-purpose respiratory mask (25 pack)
WellBefore KN95 kids masks
These individually wrapped face masks are $1.49 each, or $1.19 each when you sign up for a regular weekly shipment. They're made of five layers (for kids for ages 5 to 12), or four layers (for ages 2 to 4). Their earloops are adjustable, and they have a moisture-wicking inner layer. Find them in three sizes for kids.
Powecom kids KN95-SM respirator mask (10 pack)
This multi-layer, breathable KN95 mask can be purchased in a 10 pack (or more). Quantity discounts are available.
BET may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.