There’s been plenty of debate lately about what kind of masks Americans should be wearing as omicron sweeps across the nation. Now, the Biden administration has announced it will start making 400 million medical-grade N95 masks available, free of charge, to Americans beginning the week of Jan. 24.
According to a statement from the White House released Wednesday (Jan. 19), the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile. That reserve currently has more than 750 million N95 masks in holding.
“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in US history,” the White House said.
Americans will be able to pick up the N95 masks at pharmacies and community health centers across the U.S. According to the White House, the masks will start shipping this week and be available for distribution beginning late next week. Free masks will be limited to three per person, according to a White House official.
“To ensure broad access for all Americans, there will be three masks available per person. In addition to this program, thanks to the administration’s efforts, these high-quality masks are in ample supply and widely available to American consumers,” the White House added.
The new move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its recommendations to state that Americans should seek out surgical-grade masks instead of cloth masks, the latter which has been a major part of combating COVID-19 over the past few years.
According to the CEDC, upgrading to surgical-grade or N95 masks will help prevent the spread of the highly-contagious omicron variant.
For a long time, public health officials had recommended against the public purchasing N95 and other surgical-grade masks, so those could be saved for health care officials. Now, the White House says there’s no longer a shortage of better-quality masks, and the federal stockpile has increased, so Americans should start seeking out the better masks.