US U.S. to make 400 million N95 masks available for free to fight COVID-19 pandemic -official
Biden health team weighs new mask distribution plan
Officials in favor of distributing the masks to the public have pushed for a decision as soon as Thursday.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.
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government will make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public starting next week, a White House official said, marking the Biden administration's latest effort to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
The face masks will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week, the official said, and available for pickup late next week.
The move comes after President Joe Biden and his team faced criticism for not doing enough to foster masking or bolster testing as the Omicron variant raged across the country.
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Addressing that criticism and the wave, the administration has made free tests available via a website that launched officially on Wednesday in addition to its announcement about deploying masks from the strategic reserve.
"This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history," the official said.
"To ensure accessing these masks is easy and convenient, the administration is leveraging the federal retail pharmacy program and the federal community health center program, so that free masks are available at many of the same convenient and trusted locations Americans go to get vaccinated and boosted," the official said.
The masks will be available at tens of thousands of pharmacies and thousands of community health centers with supplies available by the end of next week, the official said. "The program will be fully up and running by early February."
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Masks like the N95 that form a seal around the nose and mouth are considered especially effective at preventing virus spread. Last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that Americans wear the "the most protective mask" that they can.
Biden's team previously said there is ample supply to share the masks.
Hospitals have recovered from the desperate N95 shortages of the early pandemic, but several executives told Reuters that healthcare supply chains remain fragile and that small and poorly funded hospitals are at most risk if Americans make N95s their "everyday" masks.
U.S. mask makers told Reuters they have the machines to make millions of N95s each month.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)
We're a Physician and Mathematician and a Data Scientist. N95s Won't Work for Kids | Opinion .
The truth is, the burdens of these masks outweigh their benefits for kids. We need to consider more effective, less harmful interventions as we come together to keep schools open and safe. We know masks have become a highly contentious issue. But as a physician with a PhD in computational mathematics and a professor of data science, we have read the studies on this topic. We both have children and want them to be safe. But we also don't want them burdened with measures that won't help protect them or their peers. And mandating respirators on kids is out of step with CDC guidance and international norms.