How to get free N95 masks from the government starting this week

Pharmacies in Chicago and the suburbs that will have them include Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Costco, A Walgreens spokesperson said Friday they’ll be available ‘at select Walgreens locations nationwide while supplies last.’

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The federal government’s free distribution of the best-quality masks will include pharmacies in Chicago and the suburbs, while supplies last.

The federal government’s free distribution of the best-quality masks will include pharmacies in Chicago and the suburbs, while supplies last.

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The federal government is making 400 million N95 masks available for free starting this week at thousands of locations.

By early February, the aim is to have the program fully operational, giving Americans a chance to acquire the higher-quality masks at no cost.

Here’s what Chicagoans need to know about the rollout of free N95 masks:

Why do I need N95 masks?

Respirators — including N95 masks, KN95s and KN94s — are designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration of airborne particles. They have a denser network of fibers than surgical or cloth masks and an electrostatic charge. N95s are made of a polypropylene material that goes through a process in which it’s melted and extruded through small-diameter holes into hundreds of tiny fibers that are tangled together.

The fibers are then charged by passing them through a device that produces static electricity. The charge makes them 10 times better at capturing particles.

But the key is proper fit: There should be no air gaps or voids around the nose, cheeks or chin.

When will the masks be available?

Some locations will begin making the masks available this week, while the White House plans to have the program fully operational across the nation by early February.

Where will these free masks be available?

Pharmacies in Chicago and the suburbs have partnered with the federal government to distribute the masks. These include Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Costco stores, though some locations might not get any.

A Walgreens spokesperson told the Sun-Times Friday that masks will be available “at select Walgreens locations nationwide while supplies last.”

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Here’s the complete list of partners located in Chicago, via the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Albertsons Companies, Inc. (including Osco, Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, Albertsons Market, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Shaw’s, Haggen, Acme, Randalls, Carrs, Market Street, United, Vons, Pavilions, Amigos, Lucky’s, Pak n Save, Sav-On).
  • Costco Wholesale Corp.
  • CPESN USA, LLC.
  • CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (including Long’s).
  • Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation’s pharmacy services administrative organization (PSAO), Elevate Provider Network.
  • Health Mart Pharmacies.
  • LeaderNET and The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, Cardinal Health’s PSAOs.
  • Meijer, Inc.
  • The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market, QFC).
  • Walgreens (including Duane Reade).
  • Walmart, Inc. (including Sam’s Club).

Given the high demand, it might be good to call ahead of time to make sure that a given store has stock available.

How many can I get?

Each person will be able to pick up three N95 masks, according to the White House. It’s unclear whether this means someone could pick up three masks at one store location, then head to another and pick up three more.

What if I want masks for my children?

For this rollout, only N95 masks designed for adults will be available. The White House says it plans to have “additional, high-quality masks for children available in the near future.”

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