The U.S. government recently ordered up 400 million N95 face masks for free distribution throughout the nation to help stem the spread of COVID-19. With that many floating around, it would seem that they’d be easy to locate. The likely place to find them are pharmacies and grocery stores with pharmacies – but you’ll have to ask at the pharmacy or at the customer-service counter at the grocery.
The N95 masks are better than others because they are tight fitting, reusable and stop about 95% of particulates. Unlike other masks, the N95s are regulated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
A recent CDC study found that the N95 mask “can lower odds of testing positive [from COVID] by 83 percent” when compared to cloth masks.
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Although the supply is plentiful, it takes a bit of searching to find them – but the smartphone can help.
The first place to start is the CDC’s website that has a full list of partners in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Those pharmacies participated in the vaccine program and are also in the mask-distribution program.
The list can be found by using this link: www.tinyurl.com/N95Pharmacies. The list is broken into state-by-state sections. Included from this area are: CVS, Publix Super Markets, Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Walgreens, Walmart and Sam’s Club.
The masks began arriving at locations near the end of January. Not all sites may have them, so it might save time to call ahead. Up to three masks may be available per person. A CDC spokesperson said the masks may be distributed through other outlets, but for now they are being handled by pharmacies.
Once the masks are in hand, the CDC’s website about their use has some tips. It can be found at this link: www.tinyurl.com/N95guidelines.
Users will learn that the N95 is not designed for children, nor does it work for those with facial hair. (Mustaches may work, depending on the shape a thickness, since the mask covers above the nose.) The website also advises that the N95 “can make it harder to breathe. If you have heart or lung problems, talk to your doctor before using an N95.”
Some N95s may contain latex in the straps, so those with allergies should check the manufacturers’ websites for information.
The masks may be reused, but should be replaced when the straps become stretched or the mask no longer fits snuggly, or becomes dirty or damaged. “Do not wash your N95 or put it in the oven or microwave to try to sterilize it,” the CDC advised.
Finally, the smartphone can also provide visual guidance for use and care of the N95. Apps are available on both Google Play and the Apple Store (search for N95 Guide on either).
Lonnie Brown can be found at [email protected].