Just days after the White House said they would be allowing Americans to order free at home Covid tests, another development in the battle against the Omicron variant has been made. The Biden Administration (the people in the executive branch who work under President Biden) has announced that they’ll be distributing 400 million masks for free across America. Instead of cloth masks, the kind of coverings that the White House will be distributing are N95 Masks, a type of non-medical mask made from multiple layers of synthetic material (usually polypropylene plastic polymers) which is said to block out 95% of air particles, hence the name. This decision comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that people “may choose” to wear N95 masks as they are the best to use against Omicron. “Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of Omicron,” stated medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.
White House Officials say that these masks will be coming from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and they’ll be available at thousands of local pharmacies and community health centers across the country. One White House official called it “the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in US history.” “To ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person,” explained the official, who asked that they remain anonymous. “In addition to this program, thanks to the administration’s efforts, these high-quality masks are in ample supply and widely available to American consumers.” During the start of the pandemic, the N95 Masks had always been available to the public, but Americans were urged to leave them for healthcare workers in China. However, since then, the United States (U.S.) has boosted its manufacturing capability to about 750 million in the SNS. In addition, the official has also stated that the program which will be distributing these masks will be “fully up and running by early February.”
“I know we all wish that we could finally be done with wearing masks. I get it,” stated Joe Biden, the current president of the U.S, last week. “But there is a — they’re a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of the highly transmittable Omicron variant. So, please, please wear the mask.” Even so, some public health officials who used to be a part of the Obama administration and some of those currently in Biden’s transition team have criticized Biden for not doing more to encourage people to wear N95 Masks instead of just giving them for free, hoping the people will wear them. Moreover, pertaining to cloth masks, concerns about them discouraging the use might get some people to stop wearing any kind of mask altogether. “There is no question that high-quality masks can make a difference. They have protected myself and many other health care workers from significant exposures in hospitals and clinics,” said former Obama administration adviser Dr. Kavita Patel, “But the administration will need to be cautious about overpromising on the effect that this action might have given the trajectory of Omicron. We are already seeing cases peaking in parts of the country. High-quality masks are important but in terms of controlling omicron, it’s a bit like bringing an umbrella to a Category 5 hurricane.”