Advance Notice: Briefs

10M free KN95 masks are now available to Michiganders, Whitmer announces

By: - January 27, 2022 2:28 pm

KN95 masks | Susan J. Demas

Ten million free KN95 masks are now available to Michiganders as they continue to face the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday. 

The KN95 masks are better suited than loosely woven cloth coverings — such as the ones largely available at the beginning of the pandemic — to protect people from the omicron variant, state health officials said. The omicron variant is more contagious and has resulted in more breakthrough COVID-19 cases than previous variants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health experts recently interviewed by the Advance.

The state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is distributing the masks through local DHHS offices, local health departments, Area Agency on Aging offices, community action agencies, federally qualified health centers, and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).

To find a mask distribution site, go to Michigan.gov/MaskUpMichigan.

“We have the tools and we know what works as we face down the Omicron variant of COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a press release. “By distributing 10 million highly-effective KN95 masks, we can keep families and communities safe.”

Doctors and other health experts continue to urge everyone to wear a tightly fitting face mask when navigating public spaces and attending social gatherings, including smaller get-togethers.

Dr. Matthew Sims, the director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, said in a recent interview that he and his family wear face masks every time they gather together, despite everyone being vaccinated and boosted. COVID-19 can still break through the protection provided by vaccines and boosters and result in sickness, hospitalization or death, he explained. (Health experts emphasize that vaccinated and boosted individuals remain far less likely to be hospitalized or die because of COVID-19 than those who are unvaccinated.)

“We are urging Michiganders to mask up to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities from COVID-19,” DHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a press statement. “Wearing masks are important in helping limit the spread of COVID-19, particularly the easily spread omicron and delta variants. Today’s distribution of KN95 masks will help more Michiganders limit the spread of COVID to save lives and get back to normal sooner.” 

The Biden administration also is sending free COVID-19 rapid tests to any household that wants them. To order free tests — four per household are available — go to www.covidtests.gov.

According to a Jan. 14 statement from the CDC, loosely woven cloth face coverings provide the least protection against COVID-19, while layered, finely-woven products — like surgical masks, KN95 masks, and federally approved respirators, like N95s — offer the greatest protection.

This will be the second time the DHHS has done a mass distribution of free KN95 masks for the public. It gave out about 3.5 million masks in January 2021. The 10 million masks being distributed by the state are in addition to the 400 million free masks that the Biden administration is sending to pharmacies and health centers from the Strategic National Stockpile. 

Stores that are distributing the free masks from the federal government include CVS, Costco, Meijer, Walgreens, Kroger, Rite Aid, Walmart and Sam’s Club. 

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.

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