The Biden administration said that it plans to distribute a total of 1 billion free COVID-19 tests and 400 million free N95 masks.
Tests will start shipping out at the end of January. The N95 masks, which come from the Strategic National Stockpile, are being sent to local pharmacies and health centers nationwide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgraded its face-mask guidance this month, encouraging people to use N95 masks approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or imported KN95 respirators. Both provide more protection than either cloth or surgical masks.
Where can I get free N95 masks?
According to The Miami Herald, most pharmacies that are part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program are expected to distribute these masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a full list of these pharmacies, organized by state, here.
Some grocery store chains in the Midwest have already started providing them. Masks are available at Hy-Vee stores in Columbia, Missouri, and in most of its most eastern Iowa locations, reported KOMU 8 and CBS2 Iowa.
A Hy-Vee spokesperson told CNN that by mid-week, Hy-Vee will have masks available by mid-week at all its 275 pharmacies in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
The supermarket chain Meijer is also distributing a total of 3 million N95 masks. Meijer has locations in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
“The N95 masks will be in boxes set on a table near the Meijer Greeter stand of the grocery entrance. The Greeter, who will be wearing gloves, will place the N95 masks in piles of three for the customers to take,” Meijer said in a press release.
In an email to Marketplace, Meijer confirmed that each of its stores received N95 masks: “Depending on demand, some of our stores are moving through their supply more quickly than others, which is to be expected. We hope to obtain more supply in the future.”
Other major retailers, including CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, also have plans to stock the masks.
Walgreens told NBC5 it expects stores to first begin offering masks on Friday, Jan. 28, and will continue to roll them out over the following days and weeks. NBC5 also reported that CVS plans to offer masks in the coming weeks, and that Walmart plans to provide masks at the front of select Walmart and Sam’s Club locations late this week.
Where can I get free COVID-19 tests?
Each U.S. household can order four free at-home COVID-19 tests using the government website COVIDtests.gov, which is run by the U.S. Postal Service.
People can also opt to order their tests via telephone at 1-800-232-0233, which is open between 8 a.m. to midnight EST seven days a week. Orders will typically ship in seven to 12 days.
The Federal Trade Commission emphasized that these free tests don’t require any personal financial information, like your credit card or bank account numbers. Any entity requesting this information should be reported to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
What if I have trouble ordering a test?
People living in multi-family units have reported issues with placing orders because their address had already been used by others living in the same building.
“This is occurring in a small percentage of orders,” the U.S. Postal Service said over email.
Should this happen, the Postal Service said it recommends submitting a Service Request here or calling its help desk at 1-800-ASK-USPS.
What are some other free test resources?
People with private health insurance can also get reimbursed for up to eight free over-the-counter tests a month. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services advises keeping receipts after buying COVID-19 tests from pharmacies, stores or online retailers, so that claims can be submitted to insurers.
There is no limit to the number of COVID-19 tests you can get reimbursed for if they’ve been ordered or administered by a health care provider.