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Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package

Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package
© Greg Nash

California Democratic Reps. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffBiden administration open to restarting nuclear talks with Iran Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward House Democrats renew push for checks on presidential pardons MORE and Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocrats look to improve outreach to Asian and Latino communities Democrats offer bills to boost IRS audits of rich, corporations Biden's move on Yemen sparks new questions MORE on Tuesday urged congressional leaders to provide for distributing free masks to all Americans as part of the coronavirus aid package that's currently being negotiated.

In a letter to the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, Schiff and Khanna called for provisions in the aid package that would promote widespread mask use, including sending free masks to all via mail as well as funding for a public service announcement campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and research on masks' efficacy.

"While nothing short of a vaccine or a cure can truly end the threat of this virus, we must aggressively pursue simple and affordable courses of action that can mitigate infections and save tens of thousands of lives. Relative to the billions of dollars that we spent on critical steps like testing and contact tracing and the trillions that we spent on economic relief, masks are a low-cost intervention," Schiff and Khanna wrote.

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Democratic leaders and Trump administration officials said Tuesday that they are aiming to reach a deal on the next coronavirus aid package by the end of this week, following more than two weeks of slow-moving talks. Enhanced unemployment benefits that provided recipients an extra $600 per week already expired at the end of July. 

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report Larry Kudlow debuts to big ratings on Fox Business Network MORE told reporters after a closed-door meeting with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House House Republican attempts to appeal fine for bypassing metal detector outside chamber MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said they were not yet close to a deal, but said: "We did try to agree to set a timeline that we're going to try to reach an overall agreement if we can get one by the end of this week, so that the legislation could be then passed next week."

Schiff and Khanna have both introduced bills that would provide free masks to Americans to help encourage widespread use. Schiff's bill would order the Department of Health and Human Services to create a program to provide free cloth face masks to anyone who requests one via the U.S. Postal Service, while a similar bill that Khanna introduced with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersKlain says Harris would not overrule parliamentarian on minimum wage increase Romney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (I-Vt.) would also allow the masks to be picked up at locations like pharmacies, schools, COVID-19 testing sites and post offices.

The bill from Khanna and Sanders would allocate $5 billion to produce and distribute masks, while Schiff's would authorize $25 million for the National Institutes of Health research on facial coverings' effectiveness in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

More than half of U.S. states have mandated the use of facial coverings when people are out in public. President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE, however, has said he doesn't intend to issue a national mask mandate and prefers to leave it up to state and local governments. 

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Trump began urging Americans to wear masks last month after previously resisting wearing a mask in public and mocking others, like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video MORE, who did follow the recommendation first issued by the CDC in April to help limit the spread of viral droplets.

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciNew data suggest 'long COVID' symptoms last up to 9 months: Fauci The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan Overnight Health Care: COVID-19 vaccine makers pledge massive supply increase | Biden health nominee faces first Senate test | White House defends reopening of facility for migrant kids MORE, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said at a Senate hearing in June that he would support distributing masks for free to encourage more widespread use.

"There’s no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected. So it’s people protecting each other. Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it’s giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of," Fauci said.