Uncertainty remains for Island on N95 masks

CVS in Falmouth will have N95 masks from the federal government beginning on Friday. — Corinne Brennan

Updated 4 pm

The federal government is releasing 400 million N95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile this week for free distribution. However, it’s unclear where and when any will arrive on Martha’s Vineyard, which still has an Islandwide indoor mask mandate.

The N95 masks are considered most effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. During the month of January, the Island has seen a spike in COVID infections — the most in a one-month period since the pandemic began in 2020. On Thursday, hospital communications specialist Marissa Lefebvre confirmed the presence of the omicron variant on the Island.

“This is not a surprise, but we wanted to let the public know results we just received from state testing labs confirming that the COVID-19 omicron variant is and has been present in our community,” Claire Sequin, chief nurse and chief operating officer at the hospital, said. “This serves as an important reminder that we need to continue to protect ourselves against the most contagious of the variants by getting vaccinated and wearing masks.” 

The Times reached out to pharmacies and healthcare providers on the Island to find out if any of them would be receiving N95 masks. 

David Holmberg, manager of Leslie’s Pharmacy, said he thinks the pharmacies receiving the masks were a part of the federal vaccination program. “Nobody’s approached me about it from the state or anywhere else,” Holmberg said. 

Indeed, off-Island, a CVS store in Falmouth, which was part of the vaccine rollout for COVID-19, alerted customers that a supply of the masks was scheduled to arrive Friday, Jan. 28.

Vineyard Scripts was in a similar situation to Leslie’s. “We haven’t heard from [the government], so we’re likely not getting anything,” Vineyard Scripts pharmacist Steven Perzanowski told the Times. 

Tamara Hersh, owner and pharmacist of Conroy Apothecary in West Tisbury, also said she hasn’t received any notice about N95 masks from the government. 

When asked whether the Stop & Shop Pharmacy in Edgartown would be receiving masks, spokeswoman Stefanie Shuman said it was not yet decided which stores will be receiving the supermarket chain’s supply of N95 masks.

“Stop & Shop will be a proud participant in this program, and we anticipate having N95 masks available at select store locations. Quantities will be limited, and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis,” Shuman said. “The CDC anticipates the masks will be available in early February.”

Tisbury health agent Maura Valley, the spokeswoman for the Island boards of health, told the Times she did not know of any mask availability yet. Valley told the Times that Island Health Care is attempting to obtain N95 masks to give to the towns’ boards of health for distribution.

No one at Island Health Care was immediately available for comment.

The Times also reached out to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to see if it would be receiving masks. Lefebvre said she was uncertain, and would get back to the Times at a later time.

Updated with more information.  –Ed.