How to Get Free N95 Masks From the Federal Government

Americans will soon have access to 400 million N95 masks in what the White House has described as the biggest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.

A White House official said shipments of the non-surgical masks would begin this week and the distribution scheme would be fully operational by early February.

Officials will work with pharmacies and community health centers to distribute the highly protective coverings, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, the Biden administration's COVID testing coordinator, said the coverings "provide better protection than cloth masks" and people would have equal access to them regardless of vulnerability to the disease, income or other criteria.

Inglesby said the administration was "confident" anyone who wanted to get a covering "will be able to access them," NBC reported.

However it is not yet clear how many masks an individual can order at one time. The masks are expected to start to become available by the end of next week.

Newsweek has contacted the White House to ask for further information on distribution dates for the scheme, which is designed to counter soaring coronavirus rates. This article will be updated when that information is released.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reintroduced legislation to deliver three N95 masks to every person in the U.S. The plan has 50 co-sponsors in both houses of Congress.

On January 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published updated guidance that said N95 respirators were better at stopping COVID transmission than cloth and surgical masks. It added, however, that wearing any mask is better than no mask at all.

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Pathogen in 2020 found that N95 and surgical masks were about 99 percent effective at filtering virus particles, compared with the 50 percent rate of fabric masks.

Democrats have pushed the Biden administration to provide the higher-protection masks for free as the highly contagious Omicron variant has swept the country.

However, there has been concern within the administration that discouraging the use of cloth masks could lead people to stop wearing coverings altogether if they do not like the feel of the N95, which must form a seal on the face to work properly.

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 2 in areas with high levels of transmission wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of their vaccination status.

This month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that most people under health insurance plans would be able to get free over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

Rapid tests can also be ordered online for free and mailed to households.

Hospital worker gets N-95 mask
A hospital worker is given an N95 mask in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, on January 11. Some 400 million of the highly protective masks will be distributed to Americans. Joseph Prezioso/Getty