Biden gives away free N95 masks at pharmacies and health centers

(Washington DC) — The Biden administration will make 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free starting next week, as federal officials emphasize their enhanced protection against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced Wednesday that the masks will come from the government’s strategic national stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks can be picked up from pharmacies and health centers across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution beginning late next week, the White House said.
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This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, the administration of then-President Donald Trump considered and suspended plans to send masks to all Americans at home. President Joe Biden embraced the initiative after facing mounting criticism this month over the inaccessibility — both in supply and cost — of N95 masks as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spread across the country.

Following similar criticism of a winter shortage of COVID-19 home test kits, Biden launched a website this week for Americans to order four rapid tests to be shipped to their homes for free, with the first tests shipping later this month.

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

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday updated their facial covering guidelines to state more clearly that well-fitting N95 and KN95 masks provide the most protection against COVID-19. Still, it has not formally recommended N95’s over cloth masks.

The best mask “is the one you’ll wear and the one you can wear all day, that you can tolerate in indoor public settings,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky last week.

Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program, including the type of masks to be provided, whether child-sized copies will be available, and whether the masks can be re-worn.

The White House said that “to ensure wide access for all Americans, three masks per person will be available.”

N95 or KN95 masks are now more widely available than ever during the pandemic, although they are often more expensive than less protective surgical masks or cloth masks.

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