Biden administration to distribute free masks, purchase additional 500M COVID-19 tests

The Biden administration will purchase an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests on top of the 500 million tests previously announced.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
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Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie

President Joe Biden announced his administration would make high-quality masks available to Americans for free.

This news comes as the U.S. struggles to contain the new surge of the Omicron variant and hospitalizations from COVID-19 reach new highs, according to a CNN report.

The President also announced his administration would purchase an additional 500 million COVID-19 tests — on top of the 500 million tests he previously announced — and said the website where Americans can go to get the free tests shipped to them will be rolled out next week, the report said.

[Read more: Retailers put limits in place for purchases of at-home COVID-19 tests

"I know we all wish could finally be done with wearing masks, I get it, but they are a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of the highly transmissible Omicron variant," Biden said in remarks from the White House.

He noted that for some Americans, "a mask is not always affordable or convenient to get," and that his administration would announce more details about how it will distribute free masks next week.

Some experts have said Americans should be wearing N95 and KN95 masks instead of cloth or surgical masks to avoid the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed its guidance on masking, but earlier this week White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said the Biden administration was "strongly considering" making these higher quality masks more readily available to Americans.

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CDC director Rochelle Walensky said that the agency continues to recommend that "any mask is better than no mask," and that Americans should wear a "well-fitting mask" to protect themselves and stop the spread of the virus.

"I know we're all frustrated as we enter this new year — the Omicron variant is causing millions of cases and record hospitalizations," Biden said, before reiterating his belief that the pandemic is primarily affecting the unvaccinated in a plea for people to get their shots.

The President outlined how much better off Americans who have received their vaccination and booster shots are compared to those who have not when they are exposed to the virus, according to the report.

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"Right now, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are testing positive, but what happens after that could not be more different," Biden said.

During his remarks Biden also announced plans to deploy a new wave of medical teams to six states to help hospitals combat COVID-19, the report said.

The military medical teams will support the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Henry Ford Hospital outside Detroit, University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Biden said.