Sanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans

Julia Nikhinson

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and more than 50 Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation to send high-quality masks to every American amid a push to get the public to wear better masks given the omicron surge.  

The legislation would send every person in the country a package of three N95 masks, which provide significantly better protection than the cloth masks many people have been wearing.  

It would appropriate $5 billion to boost manufacturing and distribution of the masks and use the U.S. Postal Service to distribute them, along with pickup locations at sites such as schools and public transit stations. 

“As we face the rapidly spreading omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” said Sanders said 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.” 

Some leading health experts have also been pushing the Biden administration to do more to make high-quality masks available to the public. The omicron variant is so transmissible that regular cloth masks are rendered much less effective.  

“Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations and should not be considered an acceptable form of face covering,” Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, tweeted last month. “The US should require (& distribute) medical-grade surgical masks to be worn in crowded indoor spaces.” 

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said earlier on Wednesday that the administration is “strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans,” but he did not elaborate.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky also said Wednesday that her agency would not be changing its guidance to urge Americans to wear higher-quality masks, expressing concerns that people need to feel comfortable in them so they wear them.

Mask wearing has become highly politicized, and some members of the public will not wear any kind of mask. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are among the co-sponsors of Sanders’s “Masks for All Act,” which was first introduced in 2020.  

In the House, Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) are leading the effort along with lawmakers including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  

“This is a crisis and our response must meet the moment,” Khanna said. “If we can afford a $778 billion defense budget, we can afford to send N95 masks to every American to keep people safe as Omicron cases spike.” 

Tags Bernie Sanders Bonnie Watson Coleman Elizabeth Warren Jeff Zients Lori Trahan Pramila Jayapal Ro Khanna Rochelle Walensky Ron Wyden
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