When will the Biden administration offer free masks? Where can I get them?
The White House has confirmed that the United States will send out N95 face masks and introduce military medical teams to hospitals to help curb the spread of Omicron.
Last week President Joe Biden announced that his administration would make high-quality face masks available for free for all Americans as the United States battles against a surge in covid-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant.
In his remarks from the White House, Biden said: "I know we all wish could finally be done with wearing masks, I get it, but they are a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”
The legislation will ensure that everyone receives a package with three N95 masks from the federal government, but the administration has not yet confirmed when the distribution will begin.
“I know that for some Americans, the mask is not always affordable or convenient to get,” Biden said. “Next week we’ll announce how we’re making high-quality masks available to the American people for free.”
CDC announces that N95 masks are the most effective
Throughout the pandemic health authorities have largely refrained from advising individuals against using a particular type of mask, preferring to encourage mask-wearing in general. However a recent statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) altered its own guidance to recommend that Americans use "the most protective mask you can” to help stop the spread.
Many experts have warned that the cloth masks often used do not provide enough protection to counteract the pervasiveness of the more contagious Omicron variant.
The CDC’s website made clear that "loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection,” while suggesting that people "can choose respirators such as N95s and KN95s... removing concerns related to supply shortages for N95s."
However CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky did reemphasise on Wednesday that "any mask is better than no mask.”
Biden introduces other measures to aid the fight against Omicron
As well as sending out free masks, Biden has pledged to increase the nation’s testing capacity to ensure that covid-19 cases can be identified and the spread stemmed more effectively. He announced that the US was purchasing another 500 million tests, in addition to the 500 million previously announced.
Distribution for these tests will begin before the end of this week, but against the administration is yet to explain exactly when the process will start.
Biden also unveiled plans to send additional medical teams to six states to help hospitals facing staff shortages due to covid-19. Military medical teams will be in operation at Cleveland Clinic (Ohio), Coney Island Hospital (Brooklyn), Rhode Island Hospital (Providence), Henry Ford Hospital (Detroit), University of New Mexico Hospital (Albuquerque) and Newark University Hospital (New Jersey).
"These are just part of the first wave of deployments," the White House said of the developments. "Teams will continue to be mobilized and deployed where they are needed over the coming weeks to confront Omicron."