There are tables full of N95 masks at the entrance of Meijer stores in Michigan.
Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency has received 10,000 to distribute.
"We are the lucky ones this time," said Rebecca Burns, health officer at the agency. "We have distributed some to schools and others who requested them. We plan to hand them out to the community."
Additional details are pending.
Masking continues to be one of the most effective ways, along with quarantines, to prevent the spread of the virus, especially among the most-vulnerable population, Burns said.
"If you were to wear this all day in a hot, sweaty environment all day, it's one-and-done," Burns said of using a mask. "If you wear it for a couple of hours and take it off, you can get more use out of the mask."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 40-hour use per mask.
"What you can't do is wash it, spray it with sanitizer or do anything like that," Burns said.
Trying to clean an N95 mask destroys how it filters viruses and other pollutants. When you are finished using a mask, dispose of it.
"N95" designation means it takes out 95% of particles in the air.
"This is a better mask than a regular or cloth mask," Burns said.
Seven-day positivity rates in all three counties remained high this past week. In Branch County, 26.5% of those tested showed positive for COVID-19, about 460 cases per 100,000 population. Hillsdale reported 26.7%, roughly 270 per 100,000. In St. Joseph County, the rate was 27.8%, or 360 per 100,000.
Asked about the rates with home tests and others not reporting, Burns said it's "just a measure of what we know."
Burns also said the omicron variant appears to be spreading, but only a few positive tests receive further genetic testing to determine variants.
"This is done randomly," she said.
No omicron variant was found in Hillsdale County, but it is suspected of its high positivity rate.
Burns told the health department board there is no way to determine pediatric infection in the three counties, because no hospitals have pediatric wards. The state is gathering those statistics on a statewide basis.
Virus-related deaths rate continues to rise in the agency service area. Burns said in December, Branch County reported 12 COVID-19 deaths, plus one probable. The total as of Jan 27 was 150. Hillsdale had 178 plus one probable in December. In St. Joseph County, there were 172 total deaths. There were 15 in December, with 12 probable not included.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: N-95 masks available as area COVID-19 infection and death rate rises