(WJW/AP)– While the program is set to be up and running by early February, the Ohio Department of Health is waiting to learn more about how the state’s share of free N95 masks will be distributed through the federal government and where Ohioans can go to get them.
The White House announced plans to make 400 million N95 masks available for free as part of a string of actions aimed at fighting the surging omicron variant.
According to the White House, the masks will be available for pickup at “tens of thousands of local pharmacies” as well as thousands of community health centers. The masks were to begin shipping late last week and were to become available late this week, before being “fully up and running” in early February.
A statement from the Ohio Department of Health says:
“At this time, the Ohio Department of Health is awaiting more details from our federal partners about how the N-95 masks will be distributed, and where Ohioans can go to receive the free masks. The White House shared in its announcement that the masks will be given out at certain pharmacies and community health centers, and that the program will be fully up and running by early February. We will share updates as soon as available.”
The masks are being deployed from the Strategic National Stockpile, which currently has more than 750 million N95 masks, triple the number in January 2021, the White House said.
Experts have been stepping up calls for people to use higher quality masks like N95s, which offer much better protection than simple cloth masks, especially in the face of the highly-transmissible omicron variant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month that N95 masks offer the highest level of protection. Experts have also recommended KN95 masks, another type of high-quality mask, though consumers are warned to make sure the masks they are buying are not counterfeit.
Fox 8 News has reached out to several retailers and pharmacies for comment on when and how they expect to make the free masks available.
Inventory will begin arriving at CVS Pharmacy stores and pharmacies inside Target as early as Thursday, Jan. 27, and will continue on a rolling basis as additional supply becomes available, the company said. Masks are limited to three per person, while supplies last, CVS said.
In a press release, Meijer announced that it will participate in the program in its Midwest stores. Meijer has received three million masks, which have been made available for no charge to any customer who needs them.
The release states the masks will be in boxes set on tables near the Meijer Greeter stands at the grocery entrances.
“The Greeter, who will be wearing gloves, will place the N95 masks in piles of three for the customers to take,” according to the release.
A spokesperson for Sam’s Club and Walmart tells FOX 8, “masks will be available over the next few weeks at the front of select stores and in select clubs for individuals and families to pick up three masks per person as determined by the federal government to help keep themselves and others healthy while supplies last. Eventually, all Walmart and Sam’s Club locations will have N95 masks.”
In a statement to FOX 8, Walgreens tells us, “We expect the first stores to begin offering masks on Friday, Jan. 28, and will continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following. Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.