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N95 masks are in short supply as they become the recommended mask to curbing the spread of COVID-19 in 2022. Photo: Getty Images

New bill wants to send N95 masks to every American

Led by Senator Bernie Sanders, the legislation comes as Omicron makes quick work of cloth masks in its spread.

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On Wednesday, Jan. 12, Sen. Bernie Sanders and more than 50 Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation to send high-quality masks to every American amid a push to get the public to wear better masks during the surge of the latest COVID-19 variant. 

The bill would send every person in the country a package of three N95 masks, which provide significantly more protection than the cloth masks many have been wearing.

It would secure $5 million to increase the manufacturing and distribution of the masks and utilize the U.S. Postal Service to deliver them, along with pickup locations at sites like public transit stations and schools. 

It would distribute masks to households, dorms, prisons and homeless shelters. 

“As we face the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” Sanders said in a statement. 

N-95 masks are considered the gold standard for protection against COVID-19 exposure. Health experts have repeatedly urged the Biden administration and the CDC to update its masking guidelines now that the early-pandemic supply shortages of N95 masks have diminished. 

Some state and local officials have already begun encouraging people to upgrade their masks. 

In Milwaukee, the health department started handing out a half-million free N95 masks at testing and vaccination sites and public libraries. Connecticut announced it would distribute 6 million free N95s, and in suburban Maryland, Montgomery County Public School is providing KN95 masks to teachers, students and staff. 

Last month, Dr. Lena Wen told Insider that cloth masks are not sufficient enough protection against Omicron. 

"Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There's no place for them in light of Omicron. Wear a high-quality mask, at least a three-ply surgical mask,” Wen said. 

“Congress must demand the mass production and distribution of N95 masks, one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the Covid virus. It is an absolute scandal that in the richest country in the history of the world, high-quality masks are not more readily available to frontline workers, health care workers, and all Americans,” Sanders said. 

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said earlier on Wednesday that the administration is strongly considering options to make better-quality masks available to all Americans, but he did not elaborate. 

The bill has 15 Senate cosponsors along with more than 30 sponsors in the House.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden are among the co-sponsors of Sanders’ “Masks for All Act,” which was first introduced in 2020. 

In the House, Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Ro Khanna, Lori Trahan and Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are leading the effort. 

“As we face highly contagious coronavirus variants, it’s absolutely critical that every American has access to high-quality, protective N95 and KN95 masks to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” Trahan said in a statement. 

The lawmakers cited estimates that more widespread mask-wearing could save the U.S. economy $1 trillion by preventing closures or lockdowns.

“This is a crisis and our response must meet the moment. If we can afford a $778 billion defense budget, we can afford to send N95 masks to every American to keep people safe as Omicron cases spike,” Khanna said. 

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