As the world enters the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, with Omicron surging and cases skyrocketing, Sen. Bernie Sanders and more than 50 other Democrats in Congress, reintroduced legislation to manufacture and distribute highly-protective and potentially lifesaving N95 masks to every person in America.
Under Sanders’ Masks for All Act – first introduced in 2020 and developed in consultation with health experts including Andy Slavitt, former COVID-19 advisor to President Joe Biden and the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Obama – every person in the U.S. would receive a free package of three N95 respirator masks.
This includes individuals who are experiencing homelessness or living in group settings such as prisons, shelters, college dorms, and assisted living facilities, as well as all workers in health settings, from administrative and janitorial, to foodservice, doctors, and nurses.
“As we face the rapidly spreading omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” said Sanders. “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,” said Sanders. “We are proposing that we do what our public health experts and scientists say we must do: provide all of our people with high-quality, N95 masks without cost, which could prevent death and suffering and save huge amounts of health care dollars.”
“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,” said Ro Khanna (CA-17), a House cosponsor. “The science is clear: while surgical and high-quality reusable face masks have been effective for preventing the spread of past COVID-19 variants, N95 masks provide maximum protection against the Omicron variant and are necessary at this stage of the pandemic. We can save tens of thousands of lives by simply making the equipment people need free and easily accessible. If we’re asking folks to wear a mask, it’s on us to provide one.”
“Masks save lives. 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,” said Congresswoman Trahan. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in pushing for this critical, commonsense legislation to ensure all Americans have the best opportunity possible to protect their health.”
Americans are facing the most contagious COVID variant yet and everyone needs access to the best protection available, but while Congress has funded vaccines and testing, which are produced by wealthy corporations, people are left having to secure their own masks, which are one of the best tools we have for curbing the spread of the virus.
The Masks for All Act would ensure that all Americans, regardless of income level, have the resources to keep themselves, their families, and their neighbors safe.
This legislation would require the federal government to use all available authorities, including the Defense Production Act, to eliminate shortages of N95 respirator masks and distribute them to the public as soon as possible.
The proposal would use the United States Postal Service for distribution and set up pick-up sites at convenient community locations that are already providing essential services, such as Post Offices, pharmacies, schools, public transportation stations, and COVID-19 testing sites.
It would also end the U.S. reliance on China and other countries for this essential lifesaving equipment.
According to recent reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend N95 or KN95 masks.
When the CDC initially issued mask guidance in 2020, N95 masks were reportedly not recommended for the general public out of concern for shortages for health care workers. Health officials now say there is not a N95 shortage.
However, counterfeit masks and general access remain an issue, for the public and in hospitals and health care facilities around the country.
Studies have shown that the widespread use of face masks could prevent tens of thousands of COVID-19 deaths, while other studies indicate universal mask wearing could save the U.S. economy $1 trillion.
Today, the benefits of widespread N95 use would be even greater.
According to recent data, an N95 respirator mask provides the individual wearer with at least 2.5 hours of protection against an unmasked person infected with the Omicron variant, compared to just 20 minutes of protection if they are wearing a cloth mask or 30 minutes if they are wearing a surgical mask.
To date, the coronavirus pandemic has infected over 60 million Americans and killed more than 850,000, and just last week the U.S. reported a record-breaking 1.35 million new coronavirus infections in one day – the highest daily total in the world.
To read a summary of the bill, click here.
To read the text of the bill, click here.