U.S. President Joe Biden will announce a program to send cloth masks to disadvantaged communities to curb the coronavirus pandemic while deciding for now to shelve a proposal to send masks to every American, according to two administration officials familiar with the plans.
The U.S. will probably send millions of masks around the country “very shortly,” Biden said Tuesday at a virtual roundtable event with Black essential workers who discussed the pandemic response with him.
Brig. Gen. David Sanford, director of the supply chain task force, then told Bloomberg Law that the administration intends to focus first on “key disadvantaged populations.”
The administration is taking the more targeted move after considering whether to send masks to all Americans, a notion that has been shelved for now, according to another administration official with knowledge of the discussions.
It is not immediately clear which communities and groups will be sent masks, though Biden has made equity a core goal of his pandemic response. Sanford said the masks would be sent to “folks served by food banks and community clinics.” The coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color, and data compiled by Bloomberg shows that white people are receiving the vaccine in greater numbers than minorities.
Communities of color and other marginalized groups have also been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, both in contracting the virus, needing to go to the hospital and dying. For example, COVID-19 death rates were twice as high for Black Americans than as for white Americans last summer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Biden has made addressing those disparities a key part of his plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sanford said the masks will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for using cloth face masks.
The agency’s guidance says that Americans should wear tightly-fitting masks that have multiple layers, both of which improve protection.
“The bottom line is this: Masks work and they work best when they have a good fit and are worn correctly,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Feb. 10.
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