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How to get free N95, KN95 masks and COVID tests in Michigan

mask
Millions of free N95 masks are showing up in grocery stores, doctors offices, and pharmacies. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Feb. 17: Experts: Politics, as well as science, fuel Whitmer COVID, mask decisions
Feb. 15: The pandemic isn’t over. What Michigan needs to do if there’s a next wave.
Feb. 11: Oakland, Washtenaw counties latest to signal lift of COVID school mask mandate
Feb. 10: Michigan counties drop mask mandates as COVID plummets. Schools may follow.

Access to free masks and COVID-19 tests is expanding, enabling Michiganders to boost their protection against COVID as they pick up library books, a gallon of milk, or their next prescription.

“The demand has been tremendous,” said Mike Snyder, health officer for Delta and Menominee counties in the Upper Peninsula. His office last week received 20,000 KN95 masks from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which staff placed near the doors of the two health offices.

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“We’ve probably handed out 15, 18,000 of them,” Snyder said. “People come in just to get them, even if they have no other business with us.” 

Consider the shift. When COVID first slammed into Michigan in 2020, there was not nearly enough personal protective gear, including masks — so much so that even health workers were using home-made cloth masks

But supply chains ramped up, and the especially virulent omicron variant prompted the CDC to recommend that members of the public upgrade to N95s and KN95s — both high filtering masks — for everyday use.

Last year, MDHHS sent out 3.5 million free KN95 masks to Michiganders, but it’s already sent out 10 million in just the first five weeks of this year, said Lynn Sutfin, the department spokesperson.

“There’s a lot of interest,” said Lisa Peacock, health officer at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, which this week began distributing 23,000 free KN95 masks through its offices in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

She said the department is also distributing masks to the public at fire stations, food pantries, some churches, through emergency crews and from its new mobile testing unit

In southeast Michigan, the state is sending 1.5 million KN95 masks to Wayne County next week, said Tiffani Jackson, county spokesperson. Health officials will distribute them to 42 municipalities in Wayne County, excluding Detroit, which has its own health department, in the same way it already has distributed 30,000 at-home antigen tests, she said.

Oakland County spokesman Bill Mullan said health officials there are hammering out details to distribute 800,000 N95 masks next week.

Meanwhile, large chain pharmacies and grocery stores are offering free N95 masks, fulfilling a promise by the Biden administration last month to make 400 million of the highest-quality masks available to the general public.

At the same time, free at-home COVID-19 tests have begun to arrive in snow-covered Michigan mailboxes, part of a federal program announced in December. Consumers must order those tests via a U.S. Postal Service website.

mailbox
The U.S. Postal Service says that COVID tests delivered in the cold should be warmed to room temperature for at least two hours before using. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

The kits are tested to withstand cold temperatures, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to bring the tests inside at least two hours before opening them to use. Tests are to be used between 59 and 86 degrees.

Here are some places to find free masks and tests:

Masks

N95 masks offer the highest protection against COVID and are distributed for free through the same Federal Retail Pharmacy Program established to distribute vaccines. In Michigan, the federal program includes chains such as Costco Wholesale Corp., CVS, Meijer, Rite Aid Corp. and the Kroger Co., Walgreens, Walmart and Sam's Club.  

KN95 masks are available for free through MDHHS offices, local health departments, Area Agency on Aging offices,  Community Action Agencies and Federally Qualified Health Centers

MDHHS also provides more information here about masks — how they work and how to properly wear them.

Free at-home tests

The Biden administration is shipping up to four rapid antigen tests per household. Consumers can order them at this website.

COVID tests also are available by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in select zip codes (listed here) in Berrien, Genesee, Kent, Macomb, Muskegon, Oakland, Saginaw and Wayne counties, in the City of Detroit and in select libraries (listed here) in Calhoun, Clare, Newaygo, Oceana, and Wayne counties.

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The state also has offered free, at-home COVID antigen tests to students in Michigan's schools through the MI Backpack Home program. However, a school must choose to enroll in the program, and testing supplies continue to be strained. While 946 school districts have expressed interest, the state has distributed tests to 334 of them as of Friday, Sutfin said in an email to Bridge Michigan.

But COVID tests also can be found at pharmacies now, and most commercial insurers are now required to pay for up to eight tests per month for every person they cover. Some insurers have made it as simple as showing an insurance card at the pharmacy to pick up tests; others require customers to submit paperwork to get reimbursed for the costs.  Consumers can learn more here.

Free clinic-based testing

Free testing by professionals remains available throughout the state at sites listed here — make sure you select "no-cost." They include pop-up community sites listed here.

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