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Now You Can Get Free N95 Masks at Cincinnati Kroger Stores | Cincinnati News | Cincinnati

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Photo: Onder Ortel, Unsplash

N95 masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Need a new face mask to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19? Cincinnati has options.

Kroger stores in Greater Cincinnati are providing free N95 masks to employees and customers as part of a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In January, the White House said that the United States would begin providing face masks to residents through retail outlets and other avenues as a way to try to curtail the spread of COVID-19 that has been raging across the country since early 2020.

Virologists and other experts agree that the coronavirus spreads through the air via fine aerosol particles that can linger for hours, which is why scientists strongly recommend wearing masks — especially when indoors or among large groups — practicing physical distancing, having good ventilation and moving airflow, and avoiding large gatherings. 

Scientific studies have shown that public masking can block a high percentage of coronavirus particles from spreading to others and can protect the wearer, as well — even when not everyone does so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends well-fitting masks that a person will wear consistently. Studies show that N95 masks generally are best at blocking most of the coronavirus’ particles.

Kroger customers in Greater Cincinnati can grab up to three free N95 masks from locations with pharmacies. The masks will be available at a special display, says a press release from Kroger, which has its headquarters in Cincinnati.

“As part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, Kroger Health is incredibly proud to be part of the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history and continue our partnership the Biden Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reduce the spread of the aggressive Omicron variant in the communities we serve,” Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger’s chief medical officer, said in a press release. “Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated continue to be the top defense tools in our nation’s fight against COVID-19. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the free non-surgical N95 masks and make an appointment today to get vaccinated or boosted.”

During a Jan. 12 briefing with reporters, Deborah Hayes, president and CEO of The Christ Hospital, said that Omicron, the coronavirus’ latest variant, is changing the “rules” of the ongoing pandemic.  

“One of the things about Omicron that is very different from all of the other variants of this COVID virus is that its transmissibility efficiency is at least twice what any of the other strains of this COVID virus has been,” Hayes said. “It is a virus that spreads almost as, if not as, easily as measles.”

“It’s one of the most transmissible viruses in the history of the world,” Hayes added.

Scientists have said that getting one of the three COVID-19 vaccination series available in the United States (Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson) greatly protects people from severe illness and likely hospitalization should they be exposed to the coronavirus, including its variants like Omicron and Delta. Adding a booster provides even more protection against serious health challenges or death, experts say. And though even vaccinated people can still contract COVID-19, they are much less likely to need hospitalization. Most hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated, medical staff say.

COVID-19 vaccinations are available to people ages 5 and older. Boosters are available to everyone 18 and up as well as to teens ages 12-17 years old who have completed the Pfizer vaccine series.

Kroger’s Cincinnati/Dayton division includes stores in Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Eastern Indiana, and Greater Dayton.

Additional retail outlets also are providing or soon will provide free N95 masks, including Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Meijer.

The U.S. government also is offering free at-home test kits to residents through the U.S. Postal Service. Individuals can order tests from covidtests.gov.

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