WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free starting next week, now that federal officials are putting on cloth face coverings to better protect against the Omicron version of COVID-19. Emphasizing on.
The White House announced Wednesday that the masks would come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pick up at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. The White House said they would begin shipping this week for delivery by the end of next week.
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This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration considered a plan to send masks to all Americans at their homes and then postponed it. President Joe Biden this month adopted the initiative after facing mounting criticism over the inaccessibility – both in supply and cost – of N95 masks as the highly permeable Omicron version swept across the country.
After facing similar criticism over a winter’s lack of COVID-19 at-home testing kits, Biden this week launched a website for Americans to ship later this month for the first tests. Along with order to send four rapid tests to their homes free of cost.
The White House said the masks would be made available at pharmacies and community health centers that have partnered with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday beefed up its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks provide the most protection against COVID-19. Still, it did not formally recommend N95s over cloth masks.
The best mask “is the one you’ll wear and one you can keep on all day, one that you can tolerate in public indoor settings,” says CDC director Dr. Rochelle Valensky said last week.
Details on the specifics of the program were not immediately available, including the types of masks to be provided, whether child-sized ones would be available and whether the masks could be re-worn.
The White House said that “to ensure widespread access for all Americans, three masks per person will be available.”
N95 or KN95 masks are more widely available now than at any other time during the pandemic, although they are often more expensive than less-protective surgical masks or cloth masks.