Costco, Walmart, And Kroger Are Giving Away Free N95 Masks

Despite the controversy surrounding mask wearing during the pandemic, one thing most of us can agree on is that "free" is always better than "paid for." As part of ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus, the CDC has announced an initiative to provide free N95 masks to as many people as possible. As part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, participating pharmacies will be able to distribute free N95s to the general public very soon.

The supply will come from the Strategic National Stockpile currently said to have 750 million masks (via USA Today). White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients says that 400 million of the stock are currently on the way to pharmacies around the country in what he described as the "largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history." The spokesman further elaborated on the launching of this project: "We've already shipped millions of these masks out. And across the coming days, masks will begin to be available at local pharmacies and community health centers across the country." So where can you get one?

Head to these stores for free N95 masks

The CDC lists that there are "21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks" that will be providers of these free masks. The providers include well-known chains like Albertson's, Costco, Walgreens, and Walmart. Those in search of a mask can also look on the CDC website to find a breakdown of participating pharmacies by state. Exact distribution dates will vary, but CVS pharmacies are expected to begin rollout distribution starting January 27 and Walgreens is expecting to begin by January 28 (via USA Today). Other providers, such as Walmart, may have delayed timetables and are expecting free masks to become available by the second week of February.

The N95 mask program should not be confused with the free COVID testing kit program that is running at the same time, the latter of which is not distributed in-person but instead by mail (via The CDC has also issued new guidance regarding masks, suggesting the N95 and KN95 options offer the best available protection to the general public against COVID-19 (via NBC News). The CDC further goes on to clarify that there is no current concern of N95 shortage, but to also note that standard N95 masks are not the same as surgical N95 masks, which should be reserved for medical professionals.