Federal health officials said Tuesday they would support a government initiative to manufacture face masks and distribute them to people at no cost.
“There’s no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected,” top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday. “Anything that furthers the use of mask, whether it’s giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of.”
Fauci was among several government health experts tasked with responding to the coronavirus pandemic who said in Senate testimony that they support ramping up federal manufacturing of masks and distributing them free of charge to everyone in the United States. They spoke in response to a question from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said making face masks free could save “tens of thousands of lives.”
“I agree that that that is very important because we need to support mask-wearing,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services. “They work, they’re very effective, and I think they’re a great investment for the American people.”
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, added that making masks universally available and free of charge was “fundamental and the most important thing we can do.”
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare providers saw a shortage of face masks and N95 respirator masks to wear when treating COVID-19 patients, and individuals were given mixed messages from the government about the necessity of wearing masks.
Since then, the federal government has contracted with private manufacturers, such as Honeywell and 3M, to make millions of masks and N95 respirators specifically for the healthcare workforce. The federal government has not, however, implemented a universal mask distribution plan like the one Sanders proposed Tuesday.
Health officials on the panel Tuesday did not offer any insights as to how the federal government would be able to send masks to every household in the U.S., but Giroir told Sanders that “those kinds of processes are being thought of.”