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City begins handout of half-million N95 masks

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jan 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-10 11:10:26-05

Milwaukee has begun handing out half a million N95 masks in hopes of slowing the spread of the Omicron variant.

“I think this is a blessing, because I've been trying to get a hold of this particular kind," said Diana Carter, who visited the city's Northwest Health Center for a pack the masks.

According to the FDA, an N95 fits closely to the face and provides a higher level of protection — compared to loosely fitting cloth or surgical masks — from particles and liquids.

“Praise god, the universe, for being able to get them free today. If it’s going to save a life, yes," said Jo Reaves, who drove "a pretty good little piece" to get to the Health Center.

Honeywell makes the N95s. And on its website, a pack of 20 masks currently sells for $34.95.

At that price, 500,00 masks would cost around $850,000.

Yesterday, Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced that the state was providing all the of the N95s to Milwaukee.

Outside the Northwest Health Center, there was a long queue of cars, a half-mile long, at least, according to health department employees.

“I think people are doing well today, obviously the first day with the new mask distribution. we’re just trying to figure out the most efficient way to do it," said Nick Tomaro, Emergency Response Planning Coordinator for Milwaukee Public Health.

The demand for greater protection has increased amid the surge of Omicron.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the seven-day average of daily cases has more than doubled to 7,637 — up from 3,349 cases at this time in December.

Tomaro, with Public Health, said the city is expecting another delivery of a half-million N95s next Wednesday. They won't be running out, he said.

The Saturday handout lasted from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. From Monday, the city will be distributing masks at its Northwest and Southside Health Centers, its Menomonee Valley testing site, as well as Milwauke Public Library branches.

In the original version of this story, we reported the cost of the masks at about $17.5 million. That's the cost of 500,000 packs of masks, as currently priced by the manufacturer. However, the cost of 500,000 individual masks is about $850,000.

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