An unnamed senior official at the White House has mocked the idea of sending out free N95 masks to Americans because some people won’t wear them, according to a new report from Politico. The incident is reminiscent of when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mocked the idea of sending out free covid-19 tests, before backtracking just two weeks later.
The White House is currently considering a plan to send out free or heavily discounted N95 and KN95 masks in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, which is currently ravaging the country. The U.S. reported 787,893 new cases on Tuesday and 2,483 new deaths, with a record 145,872 Americans in the hospital with covid-19.
The CDC is reportedly mulling a change to its guidance that would recommend Americans use N95 masks when available, since higher quality masks are better at protecting the mask wearer from contracting covid-19. But the CDC’s guidance is still just rumors at this point, with no official announcement apparently imminent.
And yet Politico reports the Biden administration is still trying to decide whether giving out free high-quality masks would be a good idea, since “half the country won’t wear any mask,” according to a senior official:
“It may be popular in certain corners of Twitter, but for masking to work as a public health tool, people need to actually wear them,” the official said. “To prevent spread, the focus should be maximizing the number of people simply wearing a mask in the first place, not shifting the goal posts to urge everyone to go above and beyond to use high filtration masks to make it less likely they themselves will inhale particles.”
Why should the White House even pursue smart public health goals if half the country doesn’t believe in them? Perhaps because the other half of the country, ostensibly Joe Biden’s base, would like to avoid getting sick and potentially dying from covid-19.
The White House previously ridiculed a suggestion that Americans should be able to get at-home covid-19 tests for free, but drew enough criticism that it reversed course within just a couple of weeks. Roughly 500 million tests are now going to be given out free through through the U.S. Postal Service starting this month, but a website for requesting the free tests has yet to launch.
Public health officials in the U.S. took heat early on the pandemic for mocking the idea that masks work at all, despite health experts in Asia insisting that they were crucial to combating the disease. Major studies have found that masks work, and higher quality masks work better than cloth masks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted as early as June 2020 that he always knew masks would help reduce the spread of covid-19, but didn’t want to recommend them for the general public because there was a shortage and any available should be given to health care workers.
“Well, the reason for that is that we were concerned the public health community, and many people were saying this, were concerned that it was at a time when personal protective equipment, including the N-95 masks and the surgical masks, were in very short supply,” Fauci said in June of 2020.
“And we wanted to make sure that the people, namely the health care workers, who were brave enough to put themselves in a harm way, to take care of people who you know were infected with the coronavirus and the danger of them getting infected,” Fauci continued.
But the U.S. doesn’t have a shortage of high-quality masks anymore as the world enters the third year of this pandemic. Between the CDC dragging its heels on recommending N95 masks and the CDC recently reducing isolation requirements from 10 days to five days in order to make private industry happy, it’s hard to think of an organization that’s lost more credibility with the American public.
The U.S. has recorded 62.4 million cases of covid-19 since the pandemic began and over 841,000 deaths.