Free N95 masks arrive in Jacksonville, but some stores still waiting for shipments

Federal government distributing 400 million N95s

Highly-protective N95 masks being offered for free by the federal government have started arriving in Northeast Florida.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Highly-protective N95 masks being offered for free by the federal government have started arriving in Northeast Florida.

It’s part of a massive distribution effort to help combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

On Friday, News4JAX went to the Harvey’s grocery store in downtown Jacksonville and walked up the pharmacy counter, where a staffer handed out a stack of three.

But they’re not available everywhere just yet.

There are 400 million N95 face masks in the process of being shipped out to pharmacies across the country. It represents more than half of the Strategic National Stockpile.

President Joe Biden said it’s important that the masks be more widely available — free of charge — in response to the highly contagious omicron variant.

Anthony Jackson picked up his allotted three masks Friday afternoon.

“I think it’s a good, that’s a good idea,” Jackson said. “That’s better to have the best out, not the second best, but the best, and these are supposed to be the best.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the N95s provide the best protection against the coronavirus. But that also means they’ve typically been more expensive and can be more scarce.

“I thank the government, the president even for doing this for the regular people like myself who don’t have the money sometimes to afford these types of masks because these masks do cost — they’re not free,” Jackson said.

As News4JAX was talking with Jackson, a woman who was heading to her car heard that the masks were available and went back inside for her three.

“Because they are hard to find. You will order more online, and they won’t give you 10 for $19.99,” Cassandra Brown said. “But y’all got a chance to go in Harvey’s and get them at the pharmacy for free, take advantage of it.”

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The main pharmacy retailers locally that are part of the distribution include Costco, CVS, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Harvey’s, Walgreens and Walmart.

Shipments have arrived at Harvey’s and Winn-Dixie locations already, with several locations getting theirs on Friday.

CVS told News4JAX that its stores hadn’t received their shipments as of Friday.

Walgreens’ Blanding Boulevard store was the only one in the area that had the free masks as of Friday. Walgreens is actually keeping a running list of their stores that have the masks on hand. The list is updating online as new stores get their shipments.

Walmart said its shipments will be in stores by mid-February.

As of Friday afternoon, News4JAX had not heard back from Publix or Costco.

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Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.