Biden administration will distribute 25 million free masks at food banks and health centers next month in bid to drive home mask message, COVID czar Jeff Zients reveals
- $86 million program will target under served areas
- Pentagon, USDA, and other entities are involved
- Comes during ‘critical period’ with new variants circulating
- Comes amid rise in new genetic variants of COVID-19
- Zients acknowledged masks are widely available, but said all masks are not ‘created equal’
The Biden Administration is rolling out a plan to deliver 25 million cloth masks to Americans through health centers and food banks, amid health warnings of the need for people to use them even as cases drop.
The masks will be procured by the government and distributed free, with plans to deliver them to cites that could get them into the hands of lower-income Americans where the pandemic has been taking a toll.
‘One of the most impactful things we can do is wear a mask and this is so important during this critical period where cases are declining but variants that spread more easily are increasing throughout our country,’ said Rochelle Walenksy, who heads the Centers for Disease Control, at a coronavirus briefing Wednesday.
President Joe Biden walks with Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO, right, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, second from right, and Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, as he tours of a Pfizer manufacturing site, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Portage, Mich. Biden has asked Americans to wear masks for 100 days to combat the virus
The masks will be provided to the public free of charge to the public. Wallensky said they would be ‘comfortable, easy to wear and when worn will prevent infection and we believe these masks will do so.’
According to the White House, masks will go to about 1,300 Federally Qualified Community Health Centers across the country. Two-thirds of those who are served by the centers are living in poverty, and 60 per cent are minorities, according to the White House.
‘Recipients will be encouraged to take an individually wrapped package of two masks for each person in their household,’ according to guidance.
The cloth masks will be available at food pantries and community health centers
Zients said that not all masks are ‘created equal,’ and the plan is for people to get ‘well fitting’ ones that slow transmission of COVID-19
The masks will be available beginning in March and through May, according to a White House fact sheet.
It said the Defense Department and the Agriculture Department will deliver masks to 300 food banks around the country, which in turn reach 60,000 food pantries.
‘These masks will be no cost, high-quality, washable, and consistent with the mask guidance from the CDC. All of these masks will be made in America, and will not impact availability of masks for health care workers,’ according to the White House.
Coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday that the program would cost taxpayers $86 million.
Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients described the mask rollout at a briefing Wednesday
He did not directly respond to a question about mask hesitancy and whether masks are now generally available.
‘We really believe that this policy makes a lot of sense in that it allows people who are not able to in some situations find or afford a mask to get a mask,’ he said.
Zeints referenced a plan rejected during the Trump Administration to send masks directly to Americans, saying months ago it ‘would have been a good idea.’
‘Today masks are widely available,’ he said. ‘Yet still, not all Americans are wearing masks regularly and not all masks are equal.’ He said the program ‘focuses on people who may be particularly in need of the extra support to stay safe and to meet the president’s mask challenge’ of masking up for 100 days.
Said Zients: ‘We will deliver more than 25 million masks across the country. These masks will be available at more than 1,300 community health centers and at 60,000 food pantries nationwide. Any American who needs a mask will be able to walk into these health centers or food pantries and pick up high-quality, American-made masks. These masks will be available at no cost. They’ll be well-fitting cloth masks available in children’s and adult sizes, and they can be washed for reuse – all consistent with CDC guidance, and all made in the USA.’