Biden Says Government to Make ‘High-Quality Masks’ Available to Americans for Free

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.
January 13, 2022 Updated: January 13, 2022

The U.S. government will launch an effort soon to make “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free, President Joe Biden said on Jan. 13.

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 wasn’t wearing a mask while speaking inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.

The Biden administration, which has been grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, is responding by expanding access to COVID-19 tests and sending military medical teams to hospitals, among other initiatives.

The U.S. government, starting during the Trump administration, has invested billions in taxpayer funds in COVID-19 vaccines, which have been made available for no cost to Americans across the two administrations.

Neither Biden nor the White House revealed more information about the mask effort; White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients told reporters earlier this week that the federal government has a stockpile of more than 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 the United States, experts have increasingly acknowledged that cloth masks do little to prevent infection. Some have urged people to turn to better masks such as N95 devices that must 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.

masks
N95 masks at a 3M lab in Maplewood, Minn., on March 4, 2020. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

“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 in Boston, told The Wall Street Journal.

Other experts point to the growing prediction that virtually every American will be infected with the Omicron virus variant and say wearing masks does little except potentially delay 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, wrote 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 pathogen won’t be eradicated.

Biden declined to take questions from reporters after delivering his 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.”

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.