Roughly 400 million high-quality N95 masks will be made available to Americans for free from the Strategic National Stockpile, according to an announcement from the White House picked up by countless news outlets early Wednesday. And while that’s great news, the question remains: Why did it take so long?
“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” an unnamed White House official told the Wall Street Journal. “Experts agree that masking is an important tool to control the spread of covid-19.”
The masks will reportedly be given out by pharmacies affiliated with the federal vaccine program and Americans will be able to get up to three masks per person. The population of the U.S. is roughly 330 million.
The Biden administration had previously been resistant to giving out things for free despite the historic nature of the covid-19 pandemic crisis. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki even mocked the idea of mailing Americans free covid-19 tests in early December, only to completely reverse course a couple of weeks later after getting ridiculed online.
In similar fashion, an unnamed White House official was quoted in a story from Politico last week ridiculing the idea of giving out free N95 masks.
“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, according to Politico. “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.”
Word leaked out Tuesday night that the Biden administration was considering a move to hand out free high-quality masks, right on the heels of new CDC guidance suggesting Americans try to obtain N95 or KN95 masks which are better at protecting the wearer from contracting the coronavirus.
Americans can now go online to CovidTests.gov and request their tests for free, though their are already reports of major problems. And while the government’s free masks will be distributed through pharmacies and community health centers, there’s no word yet on whether people will ever be able to request them through a website.
The U.S. reported over 1.18 million new cases of covid-19 on Tuesday, according to BNO News, owing in some part to the holiday weekend backlog, though only 47 of the 50 states reported their numbers for the day. The seven-day moving average for daily cases in the U.S. is currently 772,230 and the country reported 3,338 new deaths on Tuesday.
Better late than never when it comes to masks, right? Except for those 3,338 dead Americans.