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Biden to give away 400M N95 masks next week

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free to Americans starting next week, now that federal officials are emphasising their better protection against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 over cloth face coverings.

The White House announced yesterday that the masks will come from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand. The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centres across the country. They will begin shipping this week for distribution starting late next week, the White House said.

This will be the largest distribution of free masks by the federal government to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration considered and then shelved plans to send masks to all American at their homes.

President Joe Biden embraced the initiative after facing mounting criticism this month over the inaccessibility – both in supply and cost – of N95 masks as the highly transmissible Omicron variant swept across the country.

After facing similar criticism over a winter shortage of COVID-19 at-home test kits, Biden this week launched a website for Americans to order four rapid tests to be shipped to their homes for free, with the first tests to ship later this month.

The White House said the masks will be made available at pharmacies and community health centres.

Registered nurse Jessalynn Dest pulls on a new N95 mask after leaving a COVID-19 patient room in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. PHOTO: AP
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