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News Releases

DHEC Applauds White House’s Free N95 Mask Initiative; Highlights CDC Study on Mask Effectiveness in COVID-19 Prevention

February 4, 2022

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The White House recently announced its efforts to provide 400 million N95 masks to U.S. citizens to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) supports this initiative and encourages residents take advantage of this free resource.

DHEC does not play a role in the receipt or distribution of the masks. Pharmacies nationwide were asked if they wanted to serve as a distribution location, and the masks were shipped directly to those who signed up. Residents can view the list of free mask locations here and here. Note that not all individual locations of chain store pharmacies, such as Kroger or Walmart, signed up to receive masks, so it is important for individuals to call ahead and verify availability.

“This is a fantastic initiative because it gives residents an opportunity to get several of the high quality masks for free,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director. “While any type of correctly worn mask will help prevent COVID-19, the N95 mask provides the most protection. We encourage residents to make use of this effort and any others being offered by state and federal officials.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doubled down on the effectiveness of N95 masks in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The report released today includes the results of a study on how masking greatly reduces the spread of COVID-19. The federal agency says 534 individuals participated in the study. The found that a person is: 56 percent less likely to contract COVID if they consistently wear a cloth mask; 66 percent less likely if they consistently wear a surgical mask; and 83 percent less likely if they consistently wear a N95 mask.

While the results of this study confirmed that N95 masks provide significantly more protection than surgical or cloth masks do, the CDC reiterated that the most important point about wearing a mask was to wear a well-fitting, comfortable one routinely in public indoor settings. 

The agency offered several key tips on wearing an N95 mask, including:

  • Making sure it forms a seal with your face. Gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask.
  • Putting the N95 mask on and taking it off correctly.
  • Wearing a mask when in indoor public places or in crowded outdoor settings with close contact.

In addition to the masking initiative, other COVID-19 prevention efforts are available to residents. Free at-home tests can be ordered at, and DHEC has ordered more than 4 million at-home rapid COVID-19 antigen tests that residents can pick up for free where available by searching DHEC’s testing locator.

While masking and testing are important measures, vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 and ultimately end the pandemic. Residents ages 5 and up are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, and all eligible populations should get their booster shot. Find a vaccination site near you on our vaccine locator or by calling our Vaccination Line at 1-866-365-8110.



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