The White House is distributing 400 million N95 masks.
News Update

White House to send out 400M N95 masks as COVID test website launches

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On the same day the new website offering free at-home COVID-19 tests officially launched, the White House announced it will start distributing 400 million N95 masks to be available for free across the country. The masks, which will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers, will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week.

“To ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person,” the White House said. The masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). This will take a significant chunk out of the 750 million N95 masks the SNS has on hand.

Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program. It’s unclear whether kid-size masks will be available and whether the masks could be reworn.

Wednesday’s announcement marks the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the pandemic began. It comes as President Joe Biden has faced criticism this month over the inaccessibility of N95 masks as the Omicron variant swept across the country.

The announcement also comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been stepping up its recommendation for N95 masks. Last Friday, the CDC updated its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. However, the CDC didn’t formally recommend N95s over cloth masks, with Director Rochelle Walensky saying the best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings.”

Just like with N95 masks, the White House has been receiving criticism for lack of testing availability in recent weeks. While Wednesday’s launch of COVIDTests.gov should help, experts say the White House will have to do a lot more to fix the country’s long-troubled testing system.

“The playbook for rapid tests should look exactly like the playbook for vaccines,” Zoe McLaren, a health economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said. “They’re both things that help keep cases down and help keep COVID under control.”

On the same day the new website offering free at-home COVID-19 tests officially launched, the White House announced it will start distributing 400 million N95 masks to be available for free across the country. The masks, which will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers, will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week.

“To ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person,” the White House said. The masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). This will take a significant chunk out of the 750 million N95 masks the SNS has on hand.

Details were not immediately available on the specifics of the program. It’s unclear whether kid-size masks will be available and whether the masks could be reworn.

Wednesday’s announcement marks the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the pandemic began. It comes as President Joe Biden has faced criticism this month over the inaccessibility of N95 masks as the Omicron variant swept across the country.

The announcement also comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been stepping up its recommendation for N95 masks. Last Friday, the CDC updated its guidance on face coverings to more clearly state that properly fitted N95 and KN95 masks offer the most protection against COVID-19. However, the CDC didn’t formally recommend N95s over cloth masks, with Director Rochelle Walensky saying the best mask “is the one that you will wear and the one you can keep on all day long, that you can tolerate in public indoor settings.”

Just like with N95 masks, the White House has been receiving criticism for lack of testing availability in recent weeks. While Wednesday’s launch of COVIDTests.gov should help, experts say the White House will have to do a lot more to fix the country’s long-troubled testing system.

“The playbook for rapid tests should look exactly like the playbook for vaccines,” Zoe McLaren, a health economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said. “They’re both things that help keep cases down and help keep COVID under control.”

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