Bernie Sanders leads pressure on Joe Biden to make N95 masks free for all

Biden administration is moving to boost availability of at-home tests as variant spreads rapidly

Andrew Naughtie
Tuesday 11 January 2022 17:47

Expert warns that cloth masks offer insufficient protection against Omicron variant

As the Biden administration and CDC take steps to bolster the US’s response to the spread of the Covid-19 variant and its knock-on effects, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is adding pressure to provide free high-grade masks to all Americans.

In a tweet Monday, the senator shared a graphic headed “Not all masks are created equal”, which shows the different length of protection against transmission of Covid-19 provided by different masks. Below the table are the words: “We need N95 masks for all.”

The senator’s intervention comes as the CDC is reportedly weighing whether to recommend all Americans who can start wearing N95 and KN95 masks, both of which provide substantially more protection than the cloth or thin disposable masks worn by most people in day-to-day life.

The Biden administration has also been under heavy pressure to improve the provision of free over-the-counter self-testing kits, which have proven both hard to obtain and expensive as the Omicron variant spreads fast.

While much of early 2020 saw the Trump administration struggle to organise a reliable supply of protective equipment just for healthcare workers, Mr Sanders has long been an advocate of providing free protective masks to the population at large.

In July 2020, he introduced a bill with multiple Democratic cosponsors that would have seen masks delivered by the US Postal Service around the country and made available to vulnerable populations including care home residents and unhoused people.

“What we want to do,” the senator said at the time, “is say to the American people that masks are important and that we will provide every person in this country with three reusable masks, the highest quality that we can.

“And I think by doing that, by getting masks out to every household in the country, it sends the message, which Trump should have sent many months ago, that wearing a mask is very, very important.”

The Senate was controlled by the Republican Party at the time, and the legislation did not pass.

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