President Biden announced on Thursday that the government will give away free masks to Americans. The announcement comes as the omicron variant rips through the country (though most report very mild symptoms).
Biden said that the government has tripled the nation’s supply of N95 masks. His administration wants to give them away for free. N95 masks protect users more than a typical cloth one, alone.
“I know that for some Americans, the mask is not always affordable or convenient to get,” Biden said in a statement. “Next week we’ll announce how we’re making high-quality ones available to the American people for free.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the legislation needed to begin the process of distribution. Under his plan, every single citizen would receive three N95s for free in the mail. So far, the legislation enjoys 50 Democratic cosponsors in the House and Senate.
“We face a rapidly spreading omicron variant. We should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” Sanders said. “Congress must demand the mass production and distribution of N95s. They’re one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the Covid virus.”
What does the CDC say about masks?
So far, the Center for Disease Control only advocates for general mask usage. CDC doctor Rochelle Walensky said the government organization would update guidance to include various levels of facial protection. By this logic, some masks do a better job than others at preventing the spread of airborne viruses. Any protection is better than no protection, though, the CDC warns.
“We do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves. The guidance prevents the spread of Covid-19. That recommendation is not going to change,” the CDC said during a White House update.
According to the CDC, masks should be worn regardless of vaccination status. Indoor public spaces make more especially dangerous transmission zones, they warn. Furthermore, nearly every country in the world is dealing with omicron cases, officials say. In the United States, omicron cases represent nearly 98% of all cases.
Nearly a year and a half ago, in September 2020, researchers in Australia studied the effectiveness of different masks. They found that fabric masks are roughly 50% effective at filtering virus particles. Conversely, N95 masks are about 99% effective, according to their research. Australia also boasts one of the strictest set of Covid rules in the entire world.
This mask distribution plan comes on the heels of yet another Biden administration initiative to help struggling Americans with Covid. Earlier this week, the government announced a similar plan to distribute 500 million rapid home tests to Americans.