The Biden administration said Wednesday it would send more than 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens across the country in order to reach some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.
“While masks are widely available in many different shapes and sizes, many low-income Americans still lack affordable access to this basic protection. That’s why we’re taking this important action to keep Americans safe,” President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a White House briefing.
Starting in March, the Biden administration will deliver the masks to more than 1,300 community health centers as well as 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens across the country. The White House says an estimated 12 to 15 million Americans will receive masks as a result of these efforts.
The masks will be “no cost, high-quality, washable and consistent with the mask guidance from the CDC,” according to the White House. “All of these masks will be made in America, and will not impact availability of masks for health care workers.”
Zients, who said the effort would cost $86 million, emphasized the targeting of the effort to Americans who may want wear masks but don’t have access.
“With this action, we are helping to level the playing field, giving vulnerable populations quality well-fitting masks,” Zients said.
Zients said that months ago sending a mask to every American “would have been a good idea.” But today masks are widely available, he said, and it would instead be more effective to focus on people who are particularly in need of masks.
Biden has repeatedly stressed the importance of wearing masks in public in order to minimize the spread of the virus. The President mandated wearing masks on federal property as soon as he took office, and masks are also now required on public transportation and in airports and transit stations.
Studies have shown, and the nation’s top infectious disease doctor Dr. Anthony Fauci has said many times, that masks are the most effective way to protect oneself and others from getting infected with the virus.
The CDC recently updated its guidance to suggest wearing a cloth mask over a disposable mask, such as a blue surgical mask, is a way to add more protection.
Biden said Tuesday the White House would “probably” move to send face masks directly to Americans.
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.
A plan to distribute masks to Americans was proposed by health officials during the Trump administration but blocked by President Donald Trump, who resisted wearing masks in public for months, despite his own health officials stressing the importance of them in order to contain the coronavirus.
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.”
CNN’s Jason Hoffman and Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.