Highly recommended protective N95 masks are finally arriving in numbers at many local pharmacies as promised by the Biden administration in an announcement made in late January, but not everyone knows where or how to get them.
On January 19th, the Biden administration announced that 400 million, free N95 masks would be distributed over the coming weeks at select participating local pharmacies and community health centers. The masks were expected to arrive on a rolling basis with a limit of three to every person in the U.S. while supplies last.
The Canarsie Courier conducted research by phone and internet, then paid a visit to a sampling of 12 stores, including participating pharmacies at CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens in Canarsie, Flatbush, Flatlands, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay. Here is what we found:
Information about who actually has the masks is hit-and-miss by phone or online listings on the company websites, as each company has their own way of informing the public and not all pharmacies in each company may be participating in the mask giveaway.
When called earlier in the week, CVS stores had a recording that masks had not yet arrived in their stores, but in reality, they had been in several participating stores since early February.
In response, a CVS representative at the main number stated that the masks would be at the pharmacy if they were available and, if so, there should be a sign at the door. The recording was updated by the end of the week.
Walgreens had an updated list of participating stores on their company website, but a visit to the store’s location did not guarantee that the masks would be there, and most didn’t receive delivery yet. One store posted a sign to check back later.
Rite Aid stated on their store websites that they would not be able to reply to phone inquiries, but they had the masks in several of the stores that were visited.
With so many variables, the best way to check would be to visit a store in person to check for availability. Each store had their own brand or style of masks. There was no signage to indicate that masks were even available at some stores. Some had the masks at the pharmacy behind the counter, but you had to ask for them.
Other stores had them near the front of the store with signage and a store employee located nearby to give out the masks, but often they would be busy with other customers, making it difficult to monitor the masks.
One store employee said that there were problems with people taking more masks than they were entitled to. A customer at one of the stores said that she witnessed another customer taking three boxes of masks, not three masks from the table at the front of the store.
According to the NYC Health COVID-19 Neighborhood Data Profiles, these sections of Brooklyn had persistently higher rates of transmission, illness and deaths, as well as lower rates of vaccination than the rest of Brooklyn and New York City, but the data is improving daily.
It is especially important for residents in these neighborhoods, which are a sampling of higher risk areas, to have access to readily available vaccinations, testing and masks to continue the declining trend of COVID-19 and its variants such as the highly contagious Omicron virus.
For a full list of pharmacies and community health centers participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy program, visit cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/retail-pharmacy-program/participating-pharmacies.html