On Wednesday the White House tweeted that the Biden Administration is making N95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile available at local pharmacies and participating community health centers.
The administration hopes to distribute 400 million N95 masks. These masks will be free of cost and available to the public at federal retail pharmacy program partner locations and community health centers. Some of the participating pharmacies include Albertsons Companies, CVS, and Walgreens pharmacies.
Albertsons responded to our request for comment by saying in part, “… In addition to providing vaccinations and boosters at our pharmacies, we are participating in the federal government’s initiative to distribute free non-surgical N95 masks nationwide in the coming weeks. We are currently working to finalize details regarding inventory and distribution," said Melissa Hill Albertsons Director of Public Affairs & Government Relations.
CVS responded to our request for comment by saying in part, “Through our continued participation in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, we’ll be offering access to free N95 masks at CVS Pharmacy locations in the coming weeks as we receive supply from the Federal Government," said Monica Prinzing, CVS Health Senior Manager of Corporate Communications (Western Region).
Walgreens Pharmacy is the only pharmacy to provide us with a tentative date on which mask distribution will begin and how it will work. They expect the first stores to begin offering masks on Friday, January 28, and say stores with available N95 masks will have clearly marked signs.
Walgreens responded to our request for comment by saying in part, "We are pleased to partner with the Administration to make N95 masks in varying sizes available free of charge at participating Walgreens locations while supplies last. Customers and patients can pick up a maximum of three masks per person," said Walgreens spokesperson, Alex Brown.
Healthcare workers say that making these masks available free of cost at local pharmacies will be helpful, but they think it should have been done long before now.
"I think that that should have been done probably like two years ago, but that's just my opinion, you know," said nurse practitioner, Maggi Hume.
The N95 mask is often hard to come by and buying them in large quantities can become very expensive, but the N95 and KN95 masks have been proven most effective at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus."
"The N95 I mean it literally filters way more than a regular surgical mask," said Hume.
Making the masks readily available at pharmacies around the state could even help travelers stop the spread.
"You know it's really nice when masks are regularly available when you need them because when I'm traveling like I am now, it's hard for me to remember my mask," said Hume.
Some community members don't like the idea of distributing N95 masks.
"No. They've been available for everybody. If you want a mask you can get a mask," said San Luis Obispo County resident, Darren Bello.
...saying they've been available for years.
"There's no need. It's just more stuff," said Bello.
...and there are better uses for tax dollars.
"Probably develop more of our own manufacturing infrastructure so we can make these ourselves instead of ordering billions of dollars worth of them from China," said Bello.
Some of the participating community health centers here in San Luis Obispo include Prado and CASA.