Biden to start giving away 400 million N95 masks next week

The Biden administration will give Americans 400 million free N95 masks starting next week, as federal officials stress they offer better protection against the omicron variant of COVID-19 on cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the administration’s Strategic National Stockpile, which holds more than 750 million highly protective masks. The masks will be available at pharmacies and community health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week and distribution later next week, the White House said.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks to the public by the federal government since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration considered and shelved plans to send masks to all Americans at home. President Joe Biden, who faced mounting criticism this month for the highly-spreading variant of the omicron sweeping the country, embraced the initiative because N95 masks were difficult to come by in both supply and cost.

After facing similar criticism over a winter shortage of COVID-19 home testing kits, Biden this week launched a website for Americans to order four rapid test kits for free delivery to their homes, the first of which will be Shipping later this month.

The masks will be available at pharmacies and community health centers partnering with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the White House said.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on face coverings to make it clearer that properly worn N95 and KN95 masks provide the most protection against COVID-19. Still, it doesn’t officially recommend N95s over cloth masks.

Dr. Rochelle Varensky, director of the CDC, said last week that the best masks “are the ones you’ll wear, the ones you can wear all day, and the ones you can tolerate in a public indoor setting. kind of.”

Specific details of the plan, including the types of masks that will be provided, whether child-sized masks will be offered and whether masks will be re-wearable, were not immediately announced.

“To ensure widespread access to all Americans, three masks will be provided per person,” the White House said.

N95 or KN95 masks are more widely available now than at any time during the pandemic, although they are generally more expensive than less protective surgical or cloth masks.

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