DENVER — If you’re looking to upgrade your mask game but can’t afford higher-quality masks, you may want to go to your local public library later this week to pick some up, free of charge.
The state announced Tuesday it was following in the footsteps of cities like Milwaukee, Wis., and Salt Lake City, Utah, by providing free KN95 and surgical grade masks to Coloradans who may want them as the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to spread across the state.
Initially stating that these type of masks would be distributed at public libraries, fire stations, recreation centers, VFWs, YMCAs, and high traffic community centers that have agreed to be local distribution points, the state later backtracked, saying Wednesday morning only libraries would be distributing them and that "more locations" would follow.
The masks, which will be limited to five masks per person per month, will be available after Jan. 19, the website reads.
Some libraries on the list, including Denver Public libraries, Poudre Libraries, Front Range CC and Arapahoe Libraries, have reached out to Denver7 saying they do not have KN95 masks to distribute just yet. By Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the Denver Public Library told Denver7 they'll ask the state to remove them from their list.
Bemis Public Library in Littleton got its shipment of KN95 masks and surgical masks on Tuesday. They decided to begin giving masks out Wednesday morning, distributing hundreds throughout the day.
For people who may not have one of these locations nearby, you're asked to call the Colorado COVID-19 hotline at 1-877-268-2926 to find a distribution location near you.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) told Denver7 Wednesday it would be adding fire stations, YMCAs, VFWs and more as they ship the masks. The sites that currently have them opted in, a spokesperson said.
“We are on a mission to help Coloradans keep themselves safe, and free medical grade masks are far more effective in preventing infection than cloth masks. By making free medical grade masks available at libraries across our state and soon for home delivery, we are giving Coloradans a powerful tool to avoid infection,” Gov. Polis said in a prepared statement.
A spokesperson from the governor's office said federal relief money will help cover the costs.
KN95s masks are the Chinese equivalent to N95 masks in the U.S. and will offer comparable protection to the wearer, meaning they will block at least 95% of airborne particles that carry SARS-CoV-2, the novel virus which causes COVID-19. A well-fitted KN95 mask should sit snugly against the sides of your face with no gaps around the nose and mouth.
Health experts recommend people throw away their KN95s after one use if working in settings where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is high, such as health care facilities and schools. For others who may not be in frequent contact with someone infected with the virus or who may use them for only brief periods of time, such as when going on a grocery run, they say you can continue wearing them for up to a week, so long as it's not soiled, damaged or no longer seals well around your nose and mouth.
When it comes to caring for your KN95 mask, health experts recommend putting them in rotation after each use — but no more than a week — so you don't use the same mask two times in a row. Storing them in a safe, clean place, such as a paper bag, will allow the mask to dry out and render any potentially infectious viral particles ineffective.
They also advise thoroughly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds after taking off a mask and recommend removing them from the ear loops or elastic bands to avoid touching contaminated areas of the mask.
This is the first time the state will make higher-quality masks available to the general public. In July of 2020, Polis announced the state would be providing KN95s to teachers across Colorado to fight the spread of COVID-19 in schools. In total, the state delivered more than 1.6 million KN95 masks to Colorado educators.
"We will continue to meet Coloradans where they are at when it comes to accessing the doctor approved vaccine, free testing at community sites, free tests delivered to your home and now providing free, surgical grade masks directly to communities,” Polis said in a news release Tuesday.
On Friday, the CDC updated its guidance on masks and encouraged people in the U.S. to wear KN95 or N95 masks to help curb the rapid spread of the omicron variant. A day earlier, President Joe Biden announced that his administration was planning to make these high-quality masks available for free.
Editor's note on Jan. 19 at 11:05 a.m.: This story has been updated with information from the state, stating face masks will now only be available at some public libraries across Colorado and that other locations will be announced soon. Information from some libraries that have reached out to Denver7 about the availability of masks has also been included.