Las Vegas Sun

December 4, 2022

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Giveaway of surplus N95 masks to begin as early as today in Las Vegas

Face Masks

Steve Marcus

An N95 face mask is shown Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. The Biden administration will distribute 400 million N95 masks to the public free of charge at thousands of pharmacies and other locations across the country.

In the coming days Nevadans will have increased access to those hard-to-find N95 masks at their local pharmacies as part of the federal government’s push to limit the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant.

About 400 million N95 masks will be made available nationwide from the Strategic National Stockpile, and free to residents at the their local pharmacies and health centers.

“I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks,” President Joe Biden said last week when announcing the plan. “I get it. But they’re a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of a highly transmittable Omicron variant. So please, please wear the mask.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is distributing the N95 masks beginning this week, and the program will be “fully up and running by early February,” a White House official told CNN last week. Each person can get up to three masks.

Only adult N95 masks will be available during the initial phase, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, but further updates will come out when pediatric sizes become available.

The masks will be distributed through pharmacies that participate in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which was designed to rapidly vaccinate the American public.

Here are some of the local chains where the masks will be available:

• Smith’s Food and Drug expects an initial shipment to arrive today to all of its Las Vegas-area stories, said Aubriana Martindale, corporate affairs manager. As long as supplies last, customers will have access to the full allotment of three masks per person, she said.

• Walgreens will be stocked starting on Friday, said Scott Goldberg, director of global corporate communications. He wasn’t certain as to which stores would be receive the shipments first, but he said signs would be prominently displayed to instruct customers. “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,” Goldberg said in an emailed statement. “Customers and patients can pick up a maximum of three masks per person.”

• CVS Pharmacy locations throughout Southern Nevada will offer free N95 masks starting this week, the company said in an email to the Sun. “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,” the spokeswoman said in an email.

• Albertsons is participating in the program and working out details on nationwide distribution, a spokesperson wrote the Sun.

• Costco, which is on the list of participating pharmacies in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, declined to comment.

• Walmart and Sam’s Club stores will begin distribution at select stories next week, according to reports. The chain hasn’t indicated which cities or specific stores where the masks would be available.

• Rite Aid is targeting early February to launch distribution, the chain told NBC.

Smaller Las Vegas pharmacies like Trinity Pharmacy and Right Dose Pharmacy told the Sun they wouldn’t be receiving masks as part of the program. The initial phase of distribution is limited to larger chains but could expand to smaller operations in February.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week updated its facial covering guidance, instructing people to wear N95s or KN95s masks over cloth facial coverings. Their guidance came with the assurance of not worrying about a supply shortage.

An N95 mask retails for about $1. The CDC says it should be worn no more than five times.

“Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection,” the CDC said in its guidance. “Layered finely woven products offer more protection, 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.”