Where to Get Your Free Approved N95 Masks (& How to Spot a Fake One)

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It just got easier to find legitimate N95s with the recent announcement by the federal government of its plan to distribute up to 3 free NIOSH-approved N95 masks to adults at most major pharmacy chains where COVID vaccines are offered. Availability may be limited as they roll-out the program, but you can expect it to be fully operational by mid-February.

Major pharmacy chains CVS, Rite Aid, Stop & Shop, Walgreens, Kroger, and Walmart have confirmed that they will distribute the free masks, and while there was an early buzz about being able to request N95s from the same website where you can order free home COVID tests, it appears the masks will only be available for pickup in person.

Only adult masks will be available when the program starts, but the Washington Post reports that the White House anticipates making additional, high-quality masks for children available in the near future.


If you don’t want to wait and plan to purchase N95s before they’re readily available through the government’s new program, be careful—there are plenty of counterfeit ones still on the market.

The CDC offers the following guidelines:

  • Be wary of masks that have no markings on the face piece, no approval number on the mask or headband, and no NIOSH markings.
  • Be extra cautious of masks that explicitly claim to be “approved” for children, because NIOSH does not specifically approve any type of mask for kids.
  • If the bands go around your ears and not behind your head, you’re probably not sporting a NIOSH-approved mask. If you find one that claims to be NIOSH-approved but has ear loops, you can verify Its approval status on this website. Project N95—a non-profit personal protective equipment information and supply clearinghouse—is an excellent resource, or you can search for the CDC for masks approved by the NIOSH.

—Shelley Massey



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