(Adds details on masks for children, industry comment)
WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, Jan 19 (Reuters) - The U.S.
government will make 400 million non-surgical "N95" masks from
its strategic national stockpile available for free to the
public starting next week, a White House official said, as the
Biden administration tries to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Snug-fitting N95 face masks, so-called because they filter https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/n95-kf94-which-mask-is-best-protecting-against-covid-19-2022-01-18
at least 95% of particulate matter from the air, will be
shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week,
the official said, and will be available for pickup late next
The U.S. government is leveraging the "federal retail
pharmacy program" it used for vaccines, the White House said, as
well as federally funded health clinics that serve minority
groups hit hard by COVID infections and deaths.
Retail chain CVS, which has nearly 10,000 U.S.
pharmacy locations including within Target stores, and
Walgreens, which has over 9,000 stores, plan to
distribute free masks, company spokespeople said.
The move comes after President Joe Biden and his team faced
criticism for not doing enough https://www.reuters.com/world/us/rising-cases-omicron-highlight-holes-bidens-covid-strategy-experts-say-2021-12-20
to foster masking or bolster testing as the Omicron variant
rages across the country, and hospitalizations hit a new record.
The administration also made free rapid home tests available
via a website that launched officially on Wednesday.
"This is the largest deployment of personal protective
equipment in U.S. history," the official said about the masks,
which retail for roughly $1 to $2 online.
Multilayered masks like the N95 https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/n95-kf94-which-mask-is-best-protecting-against-covid-19-2022-01-18
that form a seal around the nose and mouth are considered
especially effective at preventing virus spread. Last week the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
that Americans wear the "the most protective mask" they can.
Consumer demand for N95s and other more protective masks has
spiked in recent weeks on Amazon.com and other online
Hospitals have recovered from the desperate N95 shortages of
the early pandemic of 2020, but several executives told Reuters
that healthcare supply chains https://www.reuters.com/world/us/burned-by-covid-supply-crunch-hospitals-invest-us-mask-making-2022-01-14
On Dec. 29, there were 747 million https://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/O
'Connell3.pdf N95s in the U.S. government's Strategic National
Stockpile, 59 times pre-pandemic levels, according to the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services.
U.S. mask makers told Reuters they have the machines to make
millions of N95s each month, and that they prioritize healthcare
3M, the largest manufacturer of N95 respirators in
the United States, has the capacity to make more than 2 billion
of those masks a year at factories in South Dakota, Nebraska and
elsewhere in the world, spokesperson Jennifer Ehrlich said.
3M has "already supplied the federal and state governments
with hundreds of millions of N95s that are in stockpiles for
this purpose, and we will replenish them as needed," she said.
U.S. mask makers told Reuters that N95s, used by a range of
workers and hobbyists, are designed for adult faces and lungs.
Just a handful of U.S. manufacturers make KN95s and other
high-quality protective masks specifically for children, they
The Biden administration last week reached out to the
American Mask Manufacturer's Association (AMMA) and its members
for information on their mask supplies, group President Lloyd
Armbrust told Reuters.
Armbrust is also chief executive of Texas mask maker
Armbrust American, which makes adult N95s as well as KN95s for
adults and children. He said the Biden administration seems to
be interested in creating a U.S. manufacturing base for
protective masks for children.
AMMA members, which do not include major government
providers like 3M and Honeywell International, are
capable of producing nearly 67 million KN95 and surgical masks
for children - not including opportunities to convert existing
lines to make more masks for that group, a spokesman said.
"We are ready to provide protective children's masks for
American families," Armbrust said.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Lisa Baertlein in
Los Angeles; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Heather Timmons,
Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)