Free N95 face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19 will be available to the public starting next week. The announcement, made Wednesday by the Biden administration, comes as Americans are also able to obtain free tests to see if they have the infectious disease.

Reports said 400 million of the N95 masks would be available at drug stores and community health centers as soon as late next week. Each person can receive three of the masks.

Wearing no mask or improperly using a mask will result in no protection from COVID-19, the Public Health Communications Collaborative said in an infographic. Countering public misinformation that has been going around lately, the graphic shows cloth masks offer some protection; surgical masks offer more protection; and high filtration masks such as N95, KN95 and KF94, offer the most protection.

“Along with getting vaccinated and boosted, experts recommend upgrading your mask if you want optimal protection,” the graphic said.

The cloth masks are reusable but should be washed after each use. Surgical masks are disposable and intended for single use. High filtration masks can be reused up to five times.

“If you don’t have access to a high filtration respirator mask, double up,” the graphic said. “Single layer masks, such as bandanas and gaiters, are less effective, so wear a cloth mask with multiple layers or wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask. Be sure your mask fits properly — nose wires improve it.”

As for the tests, they are currently available from the government at or from the United States Postal Service at

“Residential households in the U.S. can order one set of 4 free at-home tests from,” the USPS link said. “Limit of one order per residential address; One order includes 4 individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests; Orders will ship free starting in late January.”

The distribution of masks and tests is taking place while there is a surge in the pandemic, which to date has stricken 67.5 million Americans and resulted in 853,740 deaths, said. More than 75% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 59% are fully vaccinated. More than 539 million vaccine doses have been administered in the United States.

The Associated Press said of the coronavirus, “The fast-moving omicron variant may cause less severe disease on average, but COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are climbing and modelers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.”

On Wednesday, the Delaware Public Health District again reported four out of five failed critical factors on its weekly COVID-19 report card, with ever-increasing numbers.

The failed factors are new cases of COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2), new cases in the schools, positivity rate, and percent of intensive care unit patients with coronavirus. The only positive factor is in the percentage of residents who are vaccinated. The critical factors were developed by the CDC to help local agencies provide community guidance.

This week’s critical factors are 1,843 new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days (it was 1,314 last week); and 931 new cases per 100,000 staff and students in the past seven days (it was 739 last week). The county’s population is more than 200,000. Both of those totals are well over the 50 or less needed for a satisfactory grade. The positivity rate is 29.4%, up from last week’s 27.2% and above the 8% or less satisfactory mark; and the health care capacity is 25%, unchanged from last week, but greater than the 20% satisfactory mark.

The district’s COVID-19 Monthly Report said 81% of the hospitalizations and 85% of the deaths came from those who were unvaccinated. Coronavirus cases affected county residents of all age groups, with ages 20-29 suffering the most during the last two weeks of December. Overall, the daily case rate has soared.

One bit of good news: Delaware County has highest percentage of fully vaccinated persons in central Ohio as of Jan. 11. Delaware County is 77% fully vaccinated, Franklin is 66%, Union is 64%, Licking is 56%, Marion is 49%, Knox is 44% and Morrow is 42%.

As a result of the vaccination rates, Delaware County had substantially fewer hospitalizations and deaths per population due to COVID-19 than the other counties in December. Those counties who had the most hospitalizations and deaths had the lowest percentages of being fully vaccinated.

By Gary Budzak

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Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.