White House brings free N95 masks to pharmacies across the US

Amid the ongoing surge of the Omicron variant, the White House has announced it is making a supply of free N95 masks available at local pharmacies. Throughout the pandemic, health agencies around the world have continued to emphasize the benefits of wearing masks in public as a way of slowing the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, not all masks are created equal, with the N95 being the gold standard, in terms of the protection offered.

In the early days of the pandemic, N95s were hard to find, with the medical community needing them most. Production has finally started easing supply constraints and the White House has taken steps to ensure as many people as possible can get them. According to a post on Twitter, the Biden/Harris administration is making 400 million masks available for free pickup at local health centers and pharmacies.

N95 availability coincides with CDC guidance

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance on masks. While the CDC doesn't specifically say a person should only wear an N95, it does make clear that KN95 and N95 masks offer a higher level of protection.

"Masks and respirators (i.e., specialized filtering masks such as "N95s") can provide different levels of protection depending on the type of mask and how they are used," writes the CDC. "Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection."

There are two caveats users should keep in mind. First, an N95 mask with an exhaust vent should not be used, since it does nothing to protect users around you. Second, masks labeled "surgical N95" should be reserved for medical use. Nonetheless, with the CDC making it clear an N95 offers superior protection, individuals should definitely take the White House up on its offer.