The United States government will make available to the public for free 400 million N95 masks non-surgical supplies from its strategic national stockpile starting next week, a White House official said, in the administration’s latest effort to Joe Biden to help stop the covid-19 pandemic.
The masks will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week, the official said, and will be available for pickup late next week.
The move comes after Biden and his team faced criticism for not doing enough to encourage the use of masks or strengthen testing while the Omicron variant spreads throughout the country.
Addressing that criticism and the new wave of cases, the government made free testing available through a website that officially launched Wednesday, in addition to its announcement about distributing masks from the strategic stockpile.
“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in the history of the United States,” the official said.
“To ensure easy and convenient access, the government will take advantage of the federal program for retail pharmacies and community health centers, so that face mask are available at many of the same convenient and reliable places Americans go to get vaccinated,” he added.
The masks will reach tens of thousands of pharmacies and thousands of community health centers with supplies available by the end of next week, he said. “The program will be fully operational in early February.”
Masks like N95, which form a seal around the nose and mouth, are considered especially effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States recommended that Americans wear “the most protective mask” they can.