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White House says it will distribute 400 million free N95 masks to protect against omicron

The Biden administration will make 400 million N95 masks available for free at thousands of locations across the country, a White House official said Wednesday, as health experts stress the importance of high-quality face coverings to protect against the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The plan consists of working with pharmacies and community health centers to distribute the nonsurgical masks, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile. The administration will begin shipments this week and hopes to have the program fully operational by early February, the White House official said.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, the administration’s Covid testing coordinator, said in an interview, “We know that these masks provide better protection than cloth masks.”

The N95 masks will be made available to everybody, and recipients will not be prioritized based on vulnerability to Covid, income or other criteria. Inglesby said the administration was “confident that people who want to access them will be able to access them,” but it was not immediately clear how many masks a person could receive at one time.

The White House website to order free at-home Covid tests went live Tuesday. The website says: “Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests. The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in 7-12 days.”

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