Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to send every American a package of three N95 masks.
“As we face the rapidly spreading omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” Sanders said in a statement reintroducing the Masks for All Act, which he first proposed in 2020. “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.”
“We are proposing that we do what our public health experts and scientists say we must do: provide all of our people with high-quality, N95 masks without cost, which could prevent death and suffering and save huge amounts of health care dollars,” Sanders added.
Business Insider provides important context:
N-95 masks and their international equivalents are considered the gold standard when it comes to protecting wearers from possible COVID-19 exposure.
Health experts have repeatedly called on the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to update its masking guidance now that the early-pandemic supply shortages of N95 masks have abated. Dr. Lena Wen previously told Insider that cloth masks, which many people turned to earlier in the pandemic, are not good enough to protect against Omicron.
Fitted particle-filtering masks like N95s are up to 75 times more effective at preventing infection with COVID-19 than surgical masks, according to a study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Sanders’ bill has 15 Senate cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with more than 30 sponsors in the House.
POLITICO reports that the Biden White House is considering a separate plan to distribute masks:
Within the last week, a group of health experts — including three former advisers to the Biden transition — publicly outlined a new Covid-19 response strategy that included making N95s or KN95s “readily available to all U.S. residents for free or very low cost.”
The emphasis on high-quality masks is supported by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and comes at a time when the nation has ramped up production. Bloomberg explains
The government stockpile of medical supplies contains 737 million N95 air-filtering masks typically worn by health-care workers, Dawn O’Connell, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, told senators at a hearing Tuesday.
The HHS is looking to award contracts soon to mask makers to produce 141 million such masks per month until Covid cases start to decrease, she said. The contracts will require these manufacturers to drop production to about 20-30% when demand is not high, O’Connell said.
“We are very invested in N95 masks being made available,” O’Connell said.