Biden aims to distribute masks to millions in ‘equity’ push
CDC-approved cloth masks will reach up to 15 million people, White House estimates
US President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus, starting next month, as part of his efforts to ensure “equity” in the pandemic response.
Mr Biden, who like Donald Trump’s administration considered sending masks to all Americans, is instead aiming to focus on underserved communities and those bearing the brunt of the outbreak.
Mr Trump’s administration shelved the plans entirely.
Masks will be distributed through federally qualified community health centres and the nation’s food bank and pantry systems, the White House announced on Wednesday.
The Departments of Defence, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture will be involved distributing more than 25 million American-made cloth masks in adult and child sizes.
The White House estimates they will reach between 12 million and 15 million people.
“Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly, not all have access and not all masks are equal,” said White House Covid-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients.
The White House is not distributing the safer N95 masks, of which the US now has abundant supply after shortages early in the pandemic.
The cloth masks adhere to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “certainly they meet those requirements set by our federal standard", said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Mr Biden hinted at the move on Tuesday during an online discussion with four black essential workers.
He said he expected his administration to send millions of masks to people around the country “very shortly".
Mr Biden has asked all Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term, saying models showed it could help to save 50,000 lives.
He also required masks to be worn in federal buildings and on public transport to try to slow the spread of the virus.
In late January, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 75 per cent of Americans said they wore a mask whenever they went out in public and were around others, and another 12 per cent said they wore a mask most of the time.
Mr Biden has made a virtue of his public displays of wearing a mask, whereas Mr Trump was only rarely seen covering his face while president.
Mr Biden has also required the use of masks around the White House, unlike Mr Trump, whose White House was the scene of at least three outbreaks of the virus.
Ms Psaki suggested this month that logistical concerns underpinned the decision to scale back the plans to send masks to all Americans.
“I think there are some underlying questions about how you target them, the masks, where they go to first. Obviously, it couldn’t happen immediately,” she said.
Published: February 25, 2021 12:16 AM