Democratic Lawmakers Propose Bill to Send N95 Masks to All Americans

POLITICS & POLICY
Boxes of N95 protective masks for use by medical field personnel in New Rochelle, New York, March 17, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

A group of more than 50 Democratic lawmakers led by Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) unveiled legislation on Wednesday to send a package of three N95 masks to every American as the country faces a surge of Covid-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.

The legislation would aim to send people the high-quality masks to replace the inferior cloth masks that many Americans are still wearing despite one recent study that said cloth masks may not be effective at protecting against the Omicron variant.

The bill would put $5 billion toward boosting manufacturing and distribution of the masks and would use the U.S. Postal Service to deliver them to Americans. Masks would also be distributed at designated pickup locations including schools and public-transit stations. 

“As we face the rapidly spreading omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” said Sanders said in a statement. “Congress must demand the mass production and distribution of N95 masks, one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the Covid virus. It is an absolute scandal that in the richest country in the history of the world, high-quality masks are not more readily available to frontline workers, health care workers, and all Americans.” 

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White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Wednesday that the administration is “strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans,” but did not immediately make clear how the administration would do so.

However, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that the agency would not change its masking guidance to urge Americans to use N95 masks rather than cloth masks, saying that people must feel comfortable in masks so they wear them.

“[The] CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask and we do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of Covid-19. And, the recommendation is not going to change,” she said during the White House Covid-19 response team briefing.

“Maybe I’ll just note that we are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available to people, as you note, and the different levels of protection different masks provide. And, we want to provide Americans [with] the best and most updated information to choose what mask is going to be right for them,” she added.

Sanders’s “Masks for All Act” was first introduced in 2020 and is co-sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.). Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D., N.J.), Ro Khanna (D., Calif.), and Lori Trahan D., Mass.) are leading the effort in the House.

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