Public health experts have called for the Biden administration to distribute high quality masks to the American people. The Biden administration will announce Wednesday that it will make 400 million nonsurgical N95 face masks free of cost at community health centers across the United States.
The move, which officials are calling the “largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance to acknowledge that cloth masks do not offer as much protection as surgical masks or respirators.
N95 respirators were short-lived in the initial stages of the pandemic. They can filter out 95 per cent of all airborne particles if they are used correctly. According to the C.D.C.’s new description of masks, well-fitting respirators, including N95s, offer the highest level of protection.
Wednesday was also the formal launch day for covidtests.gov, the administration’s new website enabling Americans to order at-home coronavirus tests free of charge. On Tuesday, the site was quietly launched.
The administration has been heavily criticised for not moving faster to distribute both masks and tests to the public, particularly since the Omicron variant fuels an enormous spike in cases. Some public health experts suggest that N95 masks be sent to every household by the federal government.
Jeff Zients, President Bidens’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters last week that the administration was “actively exploring” ways to make high-quality masks available.
In a statement, the White House stated Wednesday that N95 masks would be shipped to pharmacies and other health centers by the end this week. The masks are expected to be available by the end next week. The statement stated that the program would be fully in place by February 1.
The masks will come from the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency reserve, which was badly depleted at the outset of the pandemic, leaving health care workers without masks and other personal protective gear essential to fighting the novel virus.
A March investigation by The New York Times revealed that the stockpile had been heavily weighted towards protecting against bioterror attacks for many years. In fact, almost half of its budget was spent on the Anthrax vaccine during the past decade.
China made half the world’s masks before the coronavirus emerged there, and the country was hoarding them, leaving U.S. hospitals — and the rest of the world — scrambling for supplies. Even as late December 2020, the United States still had alarming shortages on personal protective gear.
These deficiencies were promised by the Biden administration. At a Senate hearing last week, Dawn O’Connell, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the stockpile now had 737 million N95 masks, all from domestic manufacturers.
The government is also soliciting proposals from companies that have the ability to surge production to 141 million N95 masks per month in a crisis, and that would be able to maintain manufacturing at a much lower rate when demand is lower, so that the nation would never again be caught short in a public health emergency, Ms. O’Connell said.
The idea, she said, is for the stockpile to “keep this capacity that we currently have going even when demand diminishes.”
Source: NY Times