With a new omicron subvariant making its way across the United States and world, the federal government's shipment of 400 million free non-surgical N95 face masks couldn't have come at a better time.
President Joe Biden's administration announced last week it would ship face masks to distribution sites nationwide. The masks will be available to pick up at “tens of thousands” of pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the federal government's COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
But as of Thursday afternoon, many retail pharmacies still did not receive them.
CVS Health said in a statement that pharmacies could start receiving their shipments of N95 masks from the federal government beginning Thursday. Masks will be offered at CVS Pharmacy stores and pharmacies inside Target.
"Inventory is expected to begin to arrive at these locations as early as Thursday and will continue on a rolling basis as additional supply becomes available," CVS spokesperson Monica Prinzing said.
Calls to CVS locations in the Coachella Valley led to an automated message that said government-provided masks are coming soon, and they are still not available in stores. CVS will share more information on timing as it learns more, the message continued. Employees at pharmacy locations in Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and La Quinta also said they did not receive N95 masks yet.
Once masks are available, they will be limited to three per person, while supplies last, and signs will be posted to indicate N95 mask availability, Prinzing added.
Rite Aid anticipates that N95 masks will be available in some stores beginning later this week with all stores receiving them by early February, according to a statement from the company. Customers will be able to pick up three masks at an in-store display or the pharmacy counter while supplies last.
Rite Aid locations throughout the Coachella Valley also did not receive their shipments as of Thursday.
A statement from Walgreens said it expects the first stores to begin offering masks on Friday "and will continue on a rolling basis in the days and weeks following." Participating stores will have signage indicating mask availability. An automatic message states that "store staff cannot confirm inventory of ... government-issued masks over the phone." Callers are encouraged to visit www.walgreens.com/ for availability.
Albertsons Companies, which includes Albertsons and Vons, said in a statement it will be distributing masks "in the coming weeks. We are currently working to finalize details regarding inventory and distribution." Coachella Valley locations said they did not have N95 masks on Thursday.
The Desert Sands Unified School District said on Friday it received a shipment of N95 masks and is in the process of "developing a distribution system for parents to receive the masks for their students."
Through the voluntary Health Resources & Services Administration Health Center COVID-19 N95 Mask Program, eligible health centers can opt to participate to distribute free masks to patients and people in their communities.
Approximately 100 to 200 health centers are included in the initial phase and “should receive and start distributing masks before the end of January 2022.” The program is expected to be expanded in the coming weeks.
In Riverside County, the Riverside County Health System is listed as participating in the initial phase of the program. County spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr. said the county is "waiting for some official word on when and where they might be distributed."
Thomas Morrison, Safety and Emergency Preparedness manager at DAP Health, said the nonprofit "filled out a request" to participate in the program and is "awaiting a response."
The masks will come from the country's Strategic National Stockpile, which has tripled its supply of N95 masks to 750 million in the year since Biden took office. The White House has faced increasing pressure to make more protective masks available to the public rather than less protective cloth versions.
The federal government also made at-home COVID-19 testing kits available to order last week.
What pharmacies will offer free N95 masks?
Retail pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program vary by state and territory, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Here is the full list of California sites:
Albertsons Companies, Inc. (including Osco, Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, Albertsons Market, Safeway, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Shaw’s, Haggen, Acme, Randalls, Carrs, Market Street, United, Vons, Pavilions, Amigos, Lucky’s, Pak n Save, Sav-On)
Costco Wholesale Corp.
CPESN USA, LLC
CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (including Long’s)
GeriMed (long-term care and retail pharmacies)
Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation’s pharmacy services administrative organization (PSAO), Elevate Provider Network
Health Mart Pharmacies
Innovatix (long-term care pharmacies)
LeaderNET and The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, Cardinal Health’s PSAOs
Managed Health Care Associates (retail and long-term care pharmacies)
Rite Aid Corp.
The Kroger Co. (including Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, Ralphs, King Soopers, Smiths, City Market, Dillons, Mariano’s, Pick-n-Save, Copps, Metro Market, QFC)
Topco Associates, LLC (including Acme Fresh Markets, Associated Food Stores, Bashas, Big-Y Pharmacy and Wellness Center, Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Super One Pharmacy, FRESH by Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Coborn’s Pharmacy, Cash Wise Pharmacy, MarketPlace Pharmacy, Giant Eagle, Hartig Drug Company, King Kullen, Food City Pharmacy, Ingles Pharmacy, Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Pharmacies, Save Mart Pharmacies, Lucky Pharmacies, SpartanNash, Price Chopper, Market 32, Tops Friendly Markets, ShopRite, Wegmans, Weis Markets, Inc.)
Walgreens (including Duane Reade)
Walmart, Inc. (including Sam’s Club)
This story will be updated as more information is learned.
USA Today contributed to this report.
Ema Sasic covers health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ema_sasic.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Where, when you can expect to pick up N95 masks in the Coachella Valley