The Biden administration is planning to distribute millions of free face masks across the country to organizations serving people with low incomes, in a fresh effort to tamp down Covid-19 spread within vulnerable populations.
The federal government will soon begin sending more than 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens, the administration said on Wednesday, with the goal of reaching as many as 15 million people with low incomes beginning in March and continuing through May.
“It allows people who are not able to in some situations find or afford a mask, to get a mask, and is part of our equity strategy,” White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said, estimating the cost of supplying the masks at about $86 million.
Why it matters: The initiative comes nearly a year after Trump administration health officials first internally explored whether to send masks to every American in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread — an idea that was rejected at the time.
Public health experts have since pushed for reviving the concept as a way of reaching underserved communities and emphasizing the importance of mask wearing. Those advocates included members of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, who had sketched out rough plans for what masks the government should send and how it should deliver them to the entire U.S. population, according to a person familiar with the conversations.
Zients on Wednesday said such a sweeping initiative would have been a “good idea” months ago, but he noted that masks are now widely available for most people.
The administration’s initiative will be more limited by comparison, with plans to distribute the cloth masks among roughly 1,300 health centers and 300 food banks. About two-thirds of people served by community health centers are living in poverty, the administration said.