Joe Biden to give out 400 million free N95 masks

File photo: Joe Biden is expected to unveil the plan on Wednesday (AP)
File photo: Joe Biden is expected to unveil the plan on Wednesday (AP)

The US government is reportedly planning to distribute millions of N95 masks to pharmacies and community sites as coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant surge across the country.

The initiative is part of the Joe Biden administration’s efforts to handle the health crisis.

The masks will be sourced from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, sources close to the White House told Politico. The plan is expected to be unveiled on Wednesday.

Last week, Mr Biden had said that he was planning to soon announce how his government will make high-quality masks available to the American people for free.

“Please, please wear the mask,” he had said. “As I’ve said in the last two years, please wear a mask. I think it’s part of your patriotic duty. It’s not that comfortable. It’s a pain in the neck.”

The government has a stock of 737 million N95 masks in its national stockpile, according to Dawn O’Connell, the US department of health and human services assistant secretary (preparedness and response).

“We are also in the process of putting out an agreement for warm base manufacturing so we’re able to keep this capacity that we currently have going, even when demand diminishes,” she added.

N95 masks have already been prioritised for healthcare workers since they provide the highest protection of all masks. Most N95 masks are expected to be distributed through pharmacies, which will be required to hand them out for free.

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also updated its coronavirus guidelines and urged everyone to upgrade their masks to N95 or KN95. The CDC said that loosely-woven cloth masks provide the least protection.

“Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” the CDC said.

“Our main message continues to be that any mask is better than no mask,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said on 14 January.