The U.S. government will launch an effort soon to make “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free, President Joe Biden said Thursday.
While there is an “ample supply” of top notch masks “at affordable prices” available both online and in stores, Biden said that for some people, “the mask is not always affordable or convenient to get.”
“So, next week we’ll announce how we’re making high-quality masks available to American people, the American people, for free,” added Biden, who was not wearing a mask while he was speaking inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.
The Biden administration has been grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks and has attempted to combat the situation by expanding access to COVID-19 tests and sending teams to hospitals, among other initiatives.
Biden nor the White House has revealed more information about the mask effort, but White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients told reporters earlier this week that the federal government has a stockpile of over 750 million masks.
However, he indicated those were for health care workers and first responders.
“Right now, we are strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans,” Zients said.
After Omicron became the dominant CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus variant—the virus that causes COVID-19—in America, experts have increasingly acknowledged that cloth masks do little to prevent infection. Some have urged people to turn to better masks like N95s that have to meet certain certifications.
The Mayo Clinic recently told all patients and visitors to wear surgical or procedural masks when entering clinic property, joining other institutions across the country that have imposed similar requirements.
“Any mask is better than no mask. But cloth masks and then surgical masks are not as good as N95-caliber masks,” Ranu Dhillon, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Wall Street Journal.
Other experts point to the growing prediction that virtually every American will contract the Omicron virus variant and say wearing masks does little except potentially delaying infection.
“One can don an FFP2, FFP3, N95 mask, or a hazmat suit, or whatnot, but at this stage, all this may achieve is to delay the time until some of us will get infected, and thereby marginally prolong the pandemic,” Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, said on Twitter.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which purveys masking guidance that’s used nationwide, recommends “any mask is better than no mask” and “that recommendation is not going to change,” the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told a virtual briefing this week.
Biden said wearing masks is “a pain in the neck” but called them “a really important tool to stop the spread especially of a highly transmissible Omicron variant. He was speaking several days after Dr. Anthony Fauci, his chief medical adviser, said “just about everybody” will contract the variant and that the virus will not be eradicated.
Biden declined to take questions from reporters after delivering remarks, but did answer a reporter who asked, as he was being ushered from the room, what the president’s message was to vaccinated Americans who wonder why they should continue to restrict their activities given the messaging from Fauci and other administration officials.
“We’ll talk about that later,” said Biden. “Come on.”