Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today joined U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and more than 50 Democratic colleagues in the Senate and House to reintroduce lifesaving legislation to manufacture and distribute highly-protective N95 masks to every person in Oregon and nationwide.
Under Sanders’ Masks for All Act – first introduced in 2020 and developed in consultation with health experts including Andy Slavitt, former COVID-19 advisor to President Biden and the former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Obama – every person in the U.S. would receive a free package of three N95 respirator masks. This includes individuals who are experiencing homelessness or living in group settings such as prisons, shelters, college dorms, and assisted living facilities, as well as all workers in health settings, from administrative and janitorial, to food service, doctors, and nurses.
“This public health crisis demands an immediate response that equips everybody in Oregon and throughout the country with the high-quality masks that have proven effective in the defense against infection,” Wyden said. “A comprehensive science-based approach is what’s urgently needed to get past the pandemic as soon as humanly possible, and this bill provides a key tool in the fight to achieve that goal.”
“As we continue to combat the recent surge of COVID-19, Oregonians should have every tool at their disposal to protect their families and themselves from possible exposure,” said Merkley. “N95 masks have proven to save thousands of lives and limit potential risk for so many others. I am proud to support the Masks for All Act to ensure that every American – regardless of income or status – doesn’t have to face a financial burden to get high-quality protection while trying to navigate this global pandemic.”
In addition to Wyden and Merkley, other senators co-sponsoring Sanders’ Masks for All Act include U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Lori Trahan (MA-03), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) are co-leading the legislation in the House, with more than 30 additional cosponsors.
“As we face the rapidly spreading omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” Sanders said. “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. We are proposing that we do what our public health experts and scientists say we must do: provide all of our people with high-quality, N95 masks without cost, which could prevent death and suffering and save huge amounts of health care dollars.”
This legislation would require the federal government to use all available authorities, including the Defense Production Act, to eliminate shortages of N95 respirator masks and distribute them to the public as soon as possible. The proposal would use the United States Postal Service for distribution and set up pick-up sites at convenient community locations that are already providing essential services, such as Post Offices, pharmacies, schools, public transportation stations, and COVID-19 testing sites. It would also end the U.S. reliance on China and other countries for this essential lifesaving equipment.
According to recent reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend N95 or KN95 masks. When the CDC initially issued mask guidance in 2020, N95 masks were reportedly not recommended for the general public out of concern for shortages for health care workers. Health officials now say there is not a N95 shortage. However, counterfeit masks and general access remain an issue, for the public and in hospitals and health care facilities around the country.
Studies have shown that the widespread use of face masks could prevent tens of thousands of COVID-19 deaths, while other studies indicate universal mask wearing could save the U.S. economy $1 trillion. Today, the benefits of widespread N95 use would be even greater. According to recent data, an N95 respirator mask provides the individual wearer with at least 2.5 hours of protection against an unmasked person infected with the Omicron variant, compared to just 20 minutes of protection if they are wearing a cloth mask or 30 minutes if they are wearing a surgical mask.
To date, the coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 60 million Americans and killed more than 835,000, and just this week the U.S. reported a record-breaking 1.35 million new coronavirus infections in one day – the highest daily total in the world.
A summary of the bill is here.
Text of the bill is here.
A web version of this release is here.