Hand holding N95 mask

Time to stock up.

All the “CDC recommends...” memes aside, the national health authority's updated guidance actually does suggest shelving your collection of homemade cloth masks and opting for something with more protection against Covid. As of January 14, the organization states that “well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.”

In response, the Biden administration pledged to distribute 400 million N95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile to the public free of charge. In Washington, residents eager to get their freshly sanitized hands on up to three new masks can find these sought-after goods at a select group of pharmacies in the coming weeks. (For a complete list of national brands involved, see the CDC’s list of federal retail pharmacy partners.) Many local pharmacies, like Bartell Drugs, will also be handing out the masks, but they aren’t included in this federal initiative.

Keep in mind that pharmacies and big-box stores are at the whim of supply chain holdups. Most of them still aren’t sure when their first shipments will arrive, though we’ve heard through the grapevine that a few already have some up for grabs. Consider this list of locally relevant Stockpile recipients a starting point for your search.

  • Albertsons Companies (Albertsons, Safeway, Sav-On, etc.). Note that only grocery locations with an in-store pharmacy will be participating.
  • Costco. Kirkland’s Costco will offer two different styles of the N95 masks, but they are unsure when to expect them to hit the (free) sales floor.
  • CVS Pharmacy (including Longs locations)
  • Good Neighbor Pharmacy
  • Health Mart Pharmacies
  • Rite Aid
  • Kroger Companies (QFC)
  • Walgreens. We’ll save you the automated prompts and hold music—Walgreens doesn’t provide mask stock updates over the phone, but a recording says customers can check out their website for local availability.
  • Walmart

We’ll update this list as more information becomes available. 

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