How to Get Free N95 Masks and At-Home COVID Tests From the Government

Americans were entitled to up to 16 at-home COVID tests per household, and three N95 masks per person.

If you've been looking for proper protective gear, you're in luck: Americans are eligible to get at least three free N95 masks that can be picked up at pharmacies and community health centers.

In January of 2022, the White House announced that 400 million N95 masks would be distributed to Americans for free and that each U.S. household could order an initial round of four free at-home COVID-19 tests from COVIDTests.gov.

The free masks and at-home COVID-19 tests from the government were part of the response to COVID-19 surges caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Although the program supplying free at-home tests offered several rounds of ordering, it was suspended in September of 2022 due to a lack of funding from Congress, according to Covid.gov.

The availability of the free N95 mask also varies based on whether or not individual pharmacies and health centers have inventory left.

How to Get Free COVID Tests and N95 Masks
Alex Sandoval

The measures to distribute masks aimed to give Americans more access to high-quality PPE and safety initiatives.

Here's what you need to know about how to get free N95 masks and how the ordering of free at-home COVID tests worked (in case the funding situation changes).

How to Get Free N95 Masks

Where Free Masks Were Distributed

The government shipped the N95 masks to pharmacies and community health centers, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. This included retail pharmacy chains (like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid).

The masks—all 400 million—came from the Strategic National Stockpile, which is part of the federal medical response infrastructure (basically, this allows the government to supply states, tribal nations, territories, and metropolitan areas with necessary equipment during public health emergencies).

Every person is allowed up to three free N95 masks, according to HHS. That these masks are specifically N95 respirators is important here: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its masking guidelines in January 2022, recommending that people wear the most protective mask they can—and that N95 respirators provide the "highest level of protection."

How to Find Free Masks Near You

To help you find free masks in your area, the CDC has a search tool of participating locations that received masks.

Although, it does not show the pharmacies' inventory, so you will need to check directly with each location to see if they still have free masks in stock.

What to Know About Free At-Home COVID Tests

How to Order the Free Tests

The process of getting your free COVID-19 tests was pretty simple—but we'll break it down step-by-step for you here, just in case there is more funding.

  • Visit COVIDTests.gov.
  • Click the "Order Free At-Home Tests" button, which will direct you to a special United States Postal Service (USPS) website.
  • Enter your contact information and a shipping address. It's helpful, but not necessary, to enter your email address as well—this will send you tracking information to keep tabs on when your tests are shipped.
  • Click the "Check Out Now" button once you've input all of your information. There's no need to select the amount of tests or add anything to your cart—every household gets a set amount; the USPS site already knows that.

"You need a residential address to receive the free tests from the federal government," Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Health.

According to the CDC, those experiencing homelessness should access COVID-19 tests through a health clinic or other healthcare providers. According to Amesh A. Adalja, MD, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Maryland, your best bet is to order tests as soon as any are made available, to avoid any potential delays in shipping.

What Kind of Tests Are Available?

By now you know that there are tons of different at-home COVID-19 tests available for purchase. According to COVID.gov, the tests available through the program were "FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests." However, the government added that "you will not be able to choose the brand you order as part of this program."

These at-home tests detect small viral proteins called antigens, which implies a current viral infection, according to the CDC. The test are only authorized for nasopharyngeal use—that means they're nasal swab tests. Though they're less sensitive than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, they're still fairly accurate, especially when someone is experiencing symptoms, per The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.

COVID.gov also clarified that the tests could give results within 30 minutes, could be taken anywhere, work with or without COVID symptoms, and work whether or not you're up to date on your COVID vaccines.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. COVID.gov. FAQ.

  2. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Wearing a mask protects you and others.

  3. Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response. Strategic national stockpile.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Types of masks and respirators.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Homelessness and COVID-19 FAQs.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for antigen testing for SARS-CoV-2 for healthcare providers testing individuals in the community.

  7. The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. How accurate are covid-19 rapid tests?

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