How to Get Free N95 Masks From the Government

Azchael via Flickr

Back in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, it was hard to get tested for Covid-19 unless you had a good reason, like you had a known exposure to someone who had been diagnosed with Covid. It was also hard to find face masks, so people started making them themselves, and many retailers also started selling cloth face masks.

Two years later, times have changed. Testing is available at most local pharmacies, other pop up testing locations and even at home via rapid test kits you can buy. It’s also much easier to find surgical face masks in local stores, and some people are also buying N95 masks.

The government wants to make access to Covid tests and face masks even easier, as in, money should not be a barrier. That’s why the Biden administration launched a program where Americans could order free Covid tests. Now, they are also launching a program where Americans can get free N95 face masks.

Unlike the Covid tests, which will be shipped directly to your door if you signed up to receive them, the N95 masks will need to be picked up in a local store. The government is partnering with the same retailers they partnered with to roll out Covid-19 vaccination. That means, you should be able to pick up your free N95 face masks at a local pharmacy such as Walgreens or CVS. Retailers including Walmart and Costco will also have free N95 face masks.

Before you head to your local pharmacy in hopes of picking up your free face masks, there are a couple things you need to know. First, each person is allowed up to 3 N95 masks for free. The N95 masks are only intended to be worn by adults. They do not come in a child size. In addition, it’s a good idea to call your local store before going there to find out if the free N95 face masks have arrived. While some retailers already have them in stock, not every retailer has received them yet.

While 3 free N95 face masks is great, you might be wondering how to make these masks last as long as possible. The good news is that you can wear them more than once.

According to the CDC, you can wear the same N95 mask up to 5 times, but Anne Miller of Project N95 told NPR that when the CDC is saying 5 times each, they are considering one time to be one 8-hour day. That means you could wear each face mask for a total of 40 hours. If you’re only putting on your N95 to run errands, it could last quite awhile. For example, if you wear it while you’re shopping for an hour, that’s only 1 hour out of 40 that you can wear that same mask.

When you’re not wearing your N95 mask, it’s a good idea to store it in a breathable brown paper bag. After a week in the bag, any viral particles on the mask will be dead.

While it’s perfectly fine to try to extend the life of your free N95 masks, if the mask looks visibly dirty, or if it no longer fits properly (such as if the straps become loose), it’s time to toss it.