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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats call on Biden to step up virus response We are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Overnight Health Care — Biden's Supreme Court setback MORE (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. 

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“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 WalenskyRochelle WalenskyPublic health expert: Biden administration needs to have agencies on the 'same page' about COVID Child hospitalizations reach record high amid omicron surge: WSJ CDC says N95 masks provide the most protection against COVID-19 MORE 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.

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

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: 2024 chatter reveals Democratic nervousness We are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Fed's Brainard faces GOP pressure on climate stances MORE (D-Mass.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Manchin told White House he would back version of billionaire tax: report Democrats look to scale back Biden bill to get it passed MORE (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 ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman discusses decision to keep some people on home confinement out of prison Lawmakers split on next steps to secure transportation sectors against hackers MORE (D-N.J.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests Congressional Democrats press Biden to expand rapid COVID-19 testing MORE (D-Calif.) and Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanHillicon Valley — Tech giants hit with Jan. 6 panel subpoenas Bipartisan lawmakers propose 'TLDR Act' to simplify terms of service agreements Sanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans MORE (D-Mass.) are leading the effort along with lawmakers including Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Centrist Democrats urge progressives to tamp down rhetoric Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit MORE (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.”