President Joe Biden said Tuesday the White House will “probably” move to send face masks directly to Americans as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a plan originally proposed by health officials during the Trump administration but was blocked by the former President.
“We’re probably going to be sending out an awful lot of masks around the country very shortly, millions of them,” Biden said during a roundtable event with Black frontline workers. He said that the issue of masks was turned into a political issue, which cost “an awful lot of lives.”
“We could have saved literally an awful lot of lives if people had listened. We turned wearing masks into a political statement. If you were for this thing, you wore it, if we were for somebody else, you didn’t wear it, when in fact, it’s just plain basic science,” Biden said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for additional details.
Studies have shown, and Dr. Anthony Fauci has pointed out many times, masks are the single most effective way to protect yourself and others from getting infected with the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, the disease.
“Masks are a two-way street. Masks protect you and me” by preventing the spread of droplets and aerosol that may contain the virus, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in its mask guidance.
Biden has called on everyone to wear a mask when out in public, and he has made it mandatory on federal property. Masks are required on public transportation and in airports and transit stations.
Most states and some local governments have some type of mask mandate in place, and most retailers require shoppers to wear them in their stores.
Earlier this month, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said that the Biden administration is hoping to resurrect a proposal from the Trump administration to send masks directly to Americans.
“This was an idea that really came up last year in the Trump administration – the public health agencies recommended it, President Trump vetoed it for some reason,” Klain told NBC’s Lester Holt on February 4. “We want to get this back on track. I hope in the next few days, or next week, we may be able to announce some progress on this.”
The US Postal Service had planned to distribute 650 million face coverings for the Trump administration last April, according to internal documents reviewed by CNN in September.
A senior administration official told The Washington Post at the time that the plan was scrapped by the White House as some advisers were worried that it could create “concern or panic.”
Not all masks are created equal, and its not clear what kind of masks would be sent. N95 masks are the gold standard of masks because they block 95% of large and small particles using an electrostatic filter.
Cloth masks have the advantage of being washable and reusable – the more layers, the better.
“If you’re wearing a cloth mask, it should be a multi-layered mask so that you have several layers of potential protection for a single mask,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently told CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta.
The CDC has recently updated its guidance to suggest wearing a cloth mask over a disposable mask, such as one of those blue surgical masks, as a way to add more protection. New data from the CDC shows that layering a cloth mask over a disposable medical mask can block 92.5% of potentially infectious particles from escaping by creating a tighter fit and eliminating leakage.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, has recently sported two masks, one on top of the other.
CNN’s Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.