The government announced last week they planned on delivering 400 million masks to the public.
“Every person is allowed up to three free masks pending availability,” the Department of Health and Human Services says.
The initiative comes after fresh guidelines were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency has said that cloth masks are not effective in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which now makes up almost all new cases in the US. The CDC advises that N95 or KN95 masks be worn instead.
The Strategic National Stockpile has more than 750 million masks in store. The mask-distributing programme should be fully operational by early next month.
Grocery and pharmacy operator Meijer, which has more than 250 locations around the Midwest, has said that they have received around three million masks.
“The N95 masks will be in boxes set on a table near the Meijer Greeter stand of the grocery entrance,” the company stated. “The Greeter, who will be wearing gloves, will place the N95 masks in piles of three for the customers to take.”
Kroger outlets are also handing out the masks in the Midwest and Southwest.
Walgreens spokesman Scott Goldberg told NPR earlier this week that they “expect the first stores to begin offering masks on Friday, January 28 and will continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following”.
“Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability,” he said.
Masks will also be distributed at some local community health centres.
“As I’ve said in the last two years, please wear a mask. I think it’s part of your patriotic duty. It’s not that comfortable. It’s a pain in the neck,” Mr Biden said on 13 January. “I’ve taken every action I can as President to require people to wear masks in federal buildings and on airplanes and trains, because they cross state lines.”
Dawn O’Connell, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, has said that the government is “in the process of putting out an agreement for warm base manufacturing so we’re able to keep this capacity that we currently have going, even when demand diminishes”.
N95 masks have already been prioritised for healthcare workers since they provide the highest protection of all masks, and the CDC has urged everyone to upgrade their masks to N95 or KN95.
“Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, 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,” the CDC said.
“Our main message continues to be that any mask is better than no mask,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said on 14 January.
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