Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed legislation to manufacture and send N95 masks to all Americans.
The “Masks For All Act” — co-sponsored by lawmakers such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — would allocate $5 billion toward sending three N95 respirator masks to every American.
“As we face the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” Sanders explained in a statement. “Congress must demand the mass production and distribution of N95 masks, one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the Covid virus.”
“It is an absolute scandal that in the richest country in the history of the world, high-quality masks are not more readily available to frontline workers, health care workers, and all Americans,” he continued. “We are proposing that we do what our public health experts and scientists say we must do: provide all of our people with high-quality, N95 masks without cost, which could prevent death and suffering and save huge amounts of health care dollars.”
The legislation would also supply masks to homeless people, as well as those living in prisons, shelters, college dorms, and other group settings. The masks would be distributed by the United States Postal Service and would come in multiple sizes — including for children.
According to a report from The Washington Post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to recommend N95 or KN95 masks. Indeed, federal health officials neglected to do so after the onset of COVID-19.
“With the highly transmissible omicron variant spurring record levels of infections and hospitalizations, experts have repeatedly urged the Biden administration to recommend the better-quality masks rather than cloth coverings to protect against an airborne virus, and to underscore the importance of masking,” the article explained. “When the CDC issued its initial mask guidance in 2020, health officials did not urge the use of the more protective face coverings out of concern that health workers might be unable to get them. But health officials said there are no longer serious shortages of N95 masks.”
Sanders’ legislation — which was previously introduced as early as 2020 — follows President Joe Biden receiving criticism for failing to manufacture and distribute COVID-19 at-home testing kits.
A letter to the Commander-in-Chief from Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) — who serve as Republican leaders for multiple key committees — observed that Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has said there are $10 billion in unspent funds for COVID-19 tests.
“Who made the decision to not exhaust these funds prior to the holiday season?” they asked the commander-in-chief. “Will the remaining funds be used for the federal response, or will some be disbursed to states?”
They pressed the Biden administration to explain its dismissal of an October proposal that would have added more than 730 million at-home COVID tests to the market per month. “Who was authorized to make this decision? Why were more proactive measures not taken to prepare for future variants, given the spread of the Delta variant over the summer?”