Politics Biden health team weighs new mask distribution plan
Biden year one takeaways: Grand ambitions, humbling defeats
Joe Biden's long arc in public life has always had one final ambition: to sit behind the Resolute Desk of the Oval Office. He achieved it — albeit, at 78, as the oldest person to assume the presidency. After the turbulence and chaos of his predecessor, Donald Trump, Biden was seen by voters as one who could restore a sense of normalcy and a reassuring tone to the White House. But Biden also found out, as all his predecessors have, that events beyond his control would shape his time in office and the public's assessment of him.
Biden administration health officials are weighing whether to offer high quality masks, which could include KN95 or N95s, to all Americans, as the Omicron variant fuels a record surge of Covid-19, three people with knowledge of the deliberations told POLITICO.
The internal discussions come amid growing calls for the government to make the more protective masks more easily accessible, and as evidence mounts that the cloth masks many have relied on throughout the pandemic are less effective at protecting against the more transmissible Omicron variant.
Analysis: Joe Biden puts it all on the line in voting rights battle
It took a year for Joe Biden to make an irrevocable bet that puts the credibility of his presidency on the line. If his bid now to change Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation fails, he'll lose more than just the bills he sees as vital to saving democracy. His drained political capital could spell the end of the entire domestic, legislative phase of his administration. © Patrick Semansky/AP President Joe Biden speaks in support of changing the Senate filibuster rules that have stalled voting rights legislation, at Atlanta University Center Consortium, on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, Tuesday, Jan.
The administration has so far resisted recommending that everyone shift to wearing the N95s or KN95s typically worn by health care workers, even with Covid-19 cases hitting new highs. Masking guidance has been a longstanding friction point between President Joe Biden and Republican governors going back to before he was sworn into office.
But some administration officials, led by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, have advocated in the last week for launching an initiative to hand out better-quality masks to all who want them, said two people with knowledge of the deliberations, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The White House has also fielded increasingly urgent pleas from outside allies such as Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and former Covid-19 adviser to the Biden transition, to set up such a program. Within the last week, a group of health experts — including three former advisers to the Biden transition — publicly outlined a new Covid-19 response strategy that included making N95s or KN95s “readily available to all U.S. residents for free or very low cost.”
Hundreds of Virginia Schools Rebel Against Glenn Youngkin, Refuse To Lift Mask Mandate
Arlington Public Schools said it would make decisions that "prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing" of students.Youngkin, a Republican, issued an order on Saturday that effectively allows parents to exempt their children from mask requirements imposed by schools, one of his first acts as governor.
The Biden administration is in the process of developing a website where Americans will be able to request at-home rapid tests the federal government is purchasing. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that people will be able to begin ordering the tests “later this month.”
“I told the White House Covid Response Team that they should provide N95 and KN95 masks through the website too,” Gounder told POLITICO.
Others, including former Trump-era Surgeon General Jerome Adams, have made similar proposals to the administration.
The White House is also facing rising pressure in light of atelling lawmakers and staff that “surgical masks, cloth face masks and gaiter masks must be replaced by the more protective KN95 or N95 masks.” And people who interact with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris or their spouses are .
Biden's to-do list for 2022 looks a lot like 2021's
President Biden's to-do list in 2022 in many ways resembles the one he had when he took office in 2021.Biden campaigned on a pledge to shut down the coronavirus, but he enters 2022 facing record-setting case numbers from the omicron variant and public fatigue with the pandemic.The president called for unity in his inauguration speech, but that has been hard to come by as polls have consistently shown a swath of Republicans, including some holding or running for office, refuse to acknowledge that Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.Biden took office touting decades of Senate experience and a reputation for being able to cross the aisle.
The White House declined to comment.
Murthy and others in favor of distributing masks to the public have pushed for a decision as soon as Thursday, when Biden is slated to deliver an address on the state of the pandemic response.
Yet it remains unclear how the administration would implement such a plan and how long it would take to get up and running.
Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, is still “vetting” the idea and has not yet officially signed off on it, according to a person familiar with the conversations.
Among the details under debate are how exactly the government would make the masks available, as well as how to ensure that stockpiling supplies to give out to the public does not create mask shortages for hospitals and other health providers. Public health experts say the cost of more effective masks is also a barrier to use by low-income Americans.
The administration last spring distributed 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens in a bid to slow the spread among some of the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable Americans. But those were cloth masks, and the initiative ran for only a few months — making it a fraction of the size required for a sustained, national mask distribution program.
Cloth masks may not provide enough protection as omicron surges, report says
Cloth masks may not provide enough protection as omicron surges, report says Single-layer cloth masks may not provide adequate protection against the very infectious omicron variant of COVID-19, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. Many infectious disease experts noted people prefer cloth masks because they are more comfortable and fashionable to wear, but these masks can only block larger droplets of COVID-19, not smaller aerosols or particles that can also carry the virus.
There is also uncertainty among some about how significant a difference distributing the more protective masks would make in the predominantly Republican areas of the country that are least vaccinated and most vulnerable to severe illness — especially given the politicization of masks and the resistance among conservatives to wearing them.
The highly protective N95 and KN95 masks have become far easier for people to find compared to earlier in the pandemic, when severe shortages prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to hold off on recommending people use them for fear that health care workers would be unable to get them.
The CDC has yet to revise that guidance, thoughon Monday that the agency is now considering recommending people wear N95s or KN95s if they can do so consistently. CDC declined to comment when asked about the report.
Despite the wider availability, health experts still argue the government should be making the process smoother, especially as the nation enters its third year of the pandemic with the virus raging uncontrolled. It is still too difficult to find masks for reasonable prices, those critics say, and even tougher to figure out whether they are legitimate or counterfeit — persistent problems that they argue the administration has yet to prioritize fixing.
“The real challenge always comes back to, can they pull it off (logistically and supply wise) and is the upside of success for them greater than the risk of failure politically,” Adams said. “And recently the strategy seems to be push as much as you can off on the individual and take on only as much responsibility as you absolutely have to from a governmental perspective.”
Yet amid heightened concern over the strain on hospitals and disruption of essential services, the case for sending higher quality masks to Americans has become particularly acute during the Omicron wave, according to Abraar Karan, an infectious diseases fellow at Stanford University.
“What may end up happening is nothing happens, the surge passes, and then we're left again for like the fifth or sixth time to say, ‘Well, are we really going to need these in the future? Is there any point in doing this now?’ And every time we said that, we have still had a use for it in the future,” Karan said.
A year into his presidency, Biden is polling at an all-time low .
As the year progressed, Biden’s failure to turn his words into action led to cracks in his coalition — which are now turning into gaping holes. Currently, the president's overall approval rating is at an all-time low overall (33 percent), and on key issues, including the economy (34 percent), foreign policy (35 percent), and the coronavirus pandemic (39 percent), according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.