LAGUNA BEACH, CA — Laguna Beach residents will soon be able to obtain up to three free N95 masks for themselves, thanks to an effort from the Biden administration to distribute 400 million free N95 masks around the country.
White House officials told The New York Times Wednesday that they plan to ship N95 masks to pharmacies and health centers at the end of this week, and are aiming to make them available in pharmacies by the end of next week. Officials say they hope the program is in full swing by early February. Administration officials told The Times that this is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history.
The White House plans to distribute up to three N95 masks per person, following updated CDC guidance that N95 masks can be worn by the general public. Previously, due to supply chain issues, the CDC recommended that N95 masks - which the CDC says filter out 95% of aerosols, and are considered the best protection against the COVID-19 virus - be reserved for healthcare professionals.
The 400 million N95 masks will be released from the Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million on hand. While a number of pharmacy chains have partnered with the Biden administration to distribute the masks, exact details are still emerging as of Wednesday morning.
Walgreens said that it is partnering with the administration to "make N95 masks in varying sizes available free of charge at select Walgreens locations nationwide while supplies last."
"We know 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 once available," a Walgreens spokesperson said in a statement.
CVS told the health website Prevention that it will share additional details as they become available.
“Through our continued participation in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, we’ll be offering access to free N95 masks at CVS Pharmacy locations in the coming weeks as we receive supply from the federal government,” a CVS spokesperson told Prevention. “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.”
Masks may also be distributed at local community centers and health centers, the Associated Press reported.
Patch recommends contacting your local pharmacy or health care center early next week for new details about their mask supplies, and where you can find the nearest free N95 masks. Here are the nearest pharmacies and health centers to Laguna Beach:
CVS Pharmacy, (949) 499-2277, 30842 Coast Hwy.
Walgreens Pharmacy, (949) 495-8414, 30192 Town Center Dr.
The nationwide N95 mask distribution is part of a wider COVID-19 response plan that included this week's rollout of a website where Americans can sign up to receive free coronavirus rapid tests.
The release still leaves the United States with a reserve of 350,000 of the highly protective N95 masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said offer better protection against the coronavirus's omicron variant than cloth face coverings. N95 and KN95 masks are more widely available now than they were early in the pandemic, but costlier than the less-protective surgical or cloth masks.
The CDC updated its face covering guidance Friday, clearly stating that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19, but it stopped short of recommending them over cloth masks.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last week the best mask "is the one that you will wear and the one you keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.