The US government will begin distribution of 400m free N95 masks to pharmacies and community health centers this week, in the Biden administration’s latest effort to combat a surge in cases caused by the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
The free mask distribution comes alongside the launch of a federal government website where US residents can order four free at-home rapid Covid tests per household through the postal service.
However, it also comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts the Omicron wave has peaked.
In an announcement last week, the White House said distribution of three high-quality masks per person would “ensure broad access for all Americans” to protective equipment that was previously in short supply.
N95 masks are more widely available now than at any previous point in the pandemic. However, fakes are prevalent, and the high cost of genuine masks has at times made it difficult to obtain quality protective equipment. Masks distributed by the Biden administration will come from the federal government’s strategic national stockpile, which has 750m of the high quality masks on hand.
The shipments of free at-home Covid-19 rapid tests are expected to begin in late January, though these too come after peak demand. Millions of Americans sought Covid-19 tests before and after the December holidays, overwhelming national PCR testing capacity.