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What you need to know about free government N95 masks – NBC Chicago

From next week, the Biden administration is expected to begin making 400 million N95 masks available free of charge to U.S. residents. But how many can you get and how can you get them?

Here's what we know so far.

Where will you be able to get free masks?

The White House announced on Wednesday that the masks will come from the government's strategic national warehouse, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for collection at pharmacies and health centers across the country.

The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and local health centers that have partnered with the federal government's COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Illinois-based Walgreens said it will work with the administration to "make N95 masks of various sizes available for free at select Walgreens locations nationwide as long as stocks last."

"We know that masks are an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19. We are currently finalizing the operational details of this program and will provide more information when available," a Walgreens spokesman said. in a statement.

When can you get them?

They will begin shipping this week for distribution, starting late next week, the White House said.

How many can you get?

The White House said that "to ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person."

What kind of masks do you get?

The White House said the masks will be N95 masks. Details were not immediately available about the program's specifications, including the type of masks to be provided, whether there will be child sizes available, and whether the masks could be worn again.

Which masks are best against omicron?

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its face covering guidelines to more clearly establish that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks provide the best protection against COVID-19. Still, it did not formally recommend N95s over fabric masks.

The best mask "is the one you want to wear and the one you can wear all day long that you can tolerate in a public indoor setting," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky last week.

Previously, the CDC did not recommend that the general population wear N95 masks or KN95s, a similar type of mask made in China, for fear that demand would affect supply in health care.

KN95 masks, as well as N95s, filter out at least 95% of the air particles, but N95 masks have stricter requirements for pressure drops and are regularly considered the "gold standard" for masking.

N95 or KN95 masks are more available now than at any other time during the pandemic, although they are often more expensive than less protective surgical masks or fabric masks.

Earlier this month, Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that "everyone who wears a mask is the most important thing."

"The biggest leap in protection is from no mask to no mask," she said during a question-and-answer session.

Arwady said at the time that KN95 masks are "good to use" when available, but stressed the importance of overall mask use.

"As long as it feels comfortable for you to wear one, wear one," she said. "It has a higher level of protection."

The CDC said in its updated guide that it "continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask you can, which fits well and which you will wear consistently."

A mask should fit snugly to the face without holes and be comfortable enough to wear for long periods when needed, it said.

However, the agency offered a ranking of commonly used face coverings in order of highest to lowest protection, with N95s approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health and KN95s at the top.

Disposable surgical masks were next on the list, but the CDC advised to make sure they fit properly. Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, according to agency officials.

Why is it happening now?

Federal officials stress that N95 masks provide better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 over fabric face covering.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump's administration considered and shelved plans to send masks to people in their homes. President Joe Biden embraced the initiative after facing growing criticism this month over the unavailability - both in supply and cost - of N95 masks as the highly portable omicron variant swept across the country.

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