- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2022

President Biden will make 400 million N95-grade masks available for free in tens of thousands of pharmacies and community health centers as part of efforts to control the winter spike of the coronavirus, the administration said Wednesday.

The masks will ship from the Strategic National Stockpile in the coming days and start arriving in locations by next week. The program will be fully operational by early February.

A White House official called it “the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history” and said the masks would be available at the same sites where Americans get COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots. 

An N95 mask is considered the gold standard for protection against the virus and is far more effective than cloth masks. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said any mask is better than no mask but prodded Americans to use higher-quality N95 and KN95 masks over cloth and surgical ones, since they block out more particles that might contain the virus.

The White House said the use of the Defense Production Act and other actions greatly increased the number of high-grade masks that are available, so there is ample supply for health workers and the American public.

Mr. Biden is deploying the masks as he tries to catch up with an omicron wave that’s been building since Thanksgiving and starting to peak in some parts of the Northeast, though may batter other parts of the U.S. deep into February.

Also Wednesday, Mr. Biden is formally launching a federal website, covidtests.gov, from which every U.S. household can order four at-home COVID-19 tests for free. The U.S. Postal Service will ship the tests to homes.

Public health experts hailed the measures as needed to thwart the winter surge but said they should have come sooner.

“The Biden administration is finally sending out free tests to Americans’ homes and distributing free N95 masks to the public,” tweeted Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University. “I wish they did this months before — we could have reduced the delta & omicron surges — but they are still the right actions.”

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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