Contrary to popular belief, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. On top of that, BA.5, the current variant making the rounds, is highly transmissible, and tends to evade some of our protections against the virus when it comes to (re)infection. (Having said that, vaccines continue to provide protection against severe illness.)
If you’re looking for a way to reduce your chances of both contracting and unknowingly transmitting the virus—and you’re already up-to-date with your vaccinations—wearing a properly fitting N95 face mask when you’re out in public is the best way to do that. Here’s how to some for free.
How to get free N95 face masks
As you may recall, in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the public was instructed not to buy N95 masks in order to make them available to healthcare practitioners and first responders. But that is no longer the case, and N95 masks are widely available for purchase.
In fact, a limited supply of N95 masks are now available for free through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Though you’re limited to three free masks per person, at a time when the cost of most things continues to climb, that’s better than nothing.
Currently, the free masks are available at a number of national retailers—including CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Rite Aid, Publix, Walmart, and Sam’s Club—along with some smaller, independently owned pharmacies as well. No other purchase is necessary when picking up your free masks.
The easiest way to find free masks near you is to use this tool on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Simply pop in your zip code, and you’ll get a list of pharmacies and other retailers that distribute these free N95 masks.
Just keep in mind that being on the CDC list doesn’t guarantee the retailer has free masks currently in stock (but at least lets you know where to check). You can always call the store ahead of time to check their availability. And if you’re having problems finding free masks in your area, you can call 1-800-232-0233.