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Biden administration to distribute millions of N95 masks from national stockpile

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The Biden administration will dip into a federal stockpile to distribute millions of free N95 masks amid the ongoing Omicron-fueled COVID-19 surge, a new report said.

The masks from the federal Strategic National Stockpile will be given out through pharmacies and other community sites in a plan that will be unveiled Wednesday, according to Politico, which cited sources.

Biden had alluded to the plan last week at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, telling reporters he planned to announce “how we are making high-quality masks available to the American people for free.”

The president acknowledged fatigue with mask wearing but called continuing to mask up a “patriotic duty.

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“Please, please wear the mask,” Biden said. “As I’ve said in the last two years, please wear a mask. I think it’s part of your patriotic duty. It’s not that comfortable. It’s a pain in the neck.”

There are about 737 million N95 masks in the stockpile.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

The reported move would come just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its coronavirus guidance to urge the use N95s or KN95s over “loosely woven cloth” masks, which the agency said provided the least protection.

N95s, which offer the highest amount of protection, had been prioritized for health care workers amid a supply shortage but that is no longer a concern for the moment, the CDC said on Friday.

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There are 737 million N95s in the stockpile and President Joe Biden is planning a news conference Wednesday to explain efforts to make COVID tests and masks more readily available across the country, Politico reported. Much of the distribution will be through pharmacies, which will be required to give them out free of charge, the outlet reported.

Exterior of CDC building
The Centers for Disease Control updated COVID guidance to call for the use N95s or KN95s over “loosely woven cloth” masks.
AP / David Goldman

The administration has been under scrutiny for test shortages as cases of the coronavirus soared to record heights after the Omicron variant was first detected in the US early in the holiday season last year.

COVID-19 cases appear to be plateauing in New York State and elsewhere, although federal experts warn the nationwide Omicron peak may not yet have arrived.

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