Pharmacies in Minnesota passing out free N95 masks as early as Wednesday

[anvplayer video=”5085594″ station=”998122″]

It’s being called the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history, and some of the 400 million N95 masks could be in Minnesota as early as Wednesday.

“It’s three masks per person, per visit,” explains Kelly Carothers, with the Texas-based nonprofit Project N95. “They’re not requiring you to show anything. They just want people who want to get masked to get them, so they don’t want to put constraints around it.”

The massive federal government rollout — comes as the Centers for Disease Control is recommending N95s to help stop the spread of the omicron variant.

Starting Wednesday, Hy-Vee pharmacies across Minnesota are scheduled to begin passing out N95 masks.

A Hy-Vee spokesperson says the grocery store chain began receiving and distributing shipments of the masks on Friday — and that ‘truckloads’ of N95s are heading to Minnesota locations.

The company says all 275 of its pharmacies in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin will have masks this week.

“The idea that masks are being made available on the federal level is quite heartening,” says Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, from Temple Israel in south Minneapolis.

She says in early January, Project N95 donated hundreds of children’s masks to the temple.

“There are populations and communities that haven’t got access,” Rabbi Zimmerman explains. “That’s why we’ve provided this vaccine clinic and provided masks for pediatric and also adult masks — for people who might not have access to the safest masks.”

Project N95 says it’s donated 2.1-million PPE since the beginning of the pandemic.

The non-profit also sells masks as a discount — and has call lines where consumers can get information about N95 and KN95 masks.

Medical experts consider them more effective against viral transmission.

“Since the government is not testing at random these masks anymore, it really puts the onus on the consumer to decide what’s safe and what isn’t,” Carothers notes.

She adds with the omicron variant on the rise, there’s a growing problem with counterfeit masks being sold online.

“The CDC has said for over a year now, that 65% of the KN95s that are sold on line are counterfeit or substandard,” Carothers adds. “Meaning, they do not meet the N95 filtration that is advertised.”

Project N95 says consumers should be especially careful when vetting KN95s, which are not inspected by federal regulators.

Carothers says the CDC website may be your best resource — with important graphics that show what you should look for — including three important markings on KN95 masks.

“It would say KN95 right here,” she notes, pointing to a middle part of the front of the mask. “Then, underneath that, it should have the manufacturer’s name, and it should say GB 2626/2006 or GB 2626/2019. That is the standard, they updated the standard to reflect the manufacturer’s name, just as China did this.”

A Walgreens spokesperson says the free N95 masks could be available in their stores by Friday.

CVS says it expects to offer access to N95s ‘in the coming weeks.’

Temple Israel — which says it has a mask requirement — says it will provide vetted KN-95 masks for anyone coming to worship.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Zimmerman says the notion of a nationwide N95 mask distribution gives her hope.

“Because it means that we all are working towards the same goal — protecting each other, keeping each other safe, and mitigating risk,” she says. “We can’t take away this virus, or the next virus, or the next pandemic we have. But we can allow the science to inform us.”