The White House will distribute free N95 masks and at-home COVID-19 tests around the country as a part of its latest federal step to restrain the COVID-19 surge in the United States.
The Biden administration is making 400 million N95 masks widely available for free nationwide, according to a White House statement. The administration is also leveraging the federal retail pharmacy program and the federal community health centers around the country to make these free masks — provided by the Strategic National Stockpile — accessible, according to the statement.
“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” the White House statement says.
In addition to providing free masks, the administration is also providing 1 billion free at-home COVID-19 tests. Half of the tests have been available to be mailed to residences across the country since Wednesday, according to a separate statement released by the White House on Jan. 14. Each address can receive up to four COVID-19 tests, and private health insurance companies may provide additional tests.
Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson said while the availability of free tests is a useful measure against the further spread of COVID-19, it will still pose a challenge to Berkeley residents who are experiencing a housing shortage.
“The limit of four tests per household poses a challenge for tenants with multiple roommates and for multi-generational families,” Robinson said in an email. “These free tests will help make testing more available and limit spread, but it continues to be important to expand testing capacity at PCR testing sites, as the City of Berkeley is doing.”
The N95 masks are anticipated to ship out later this week and will be made available late next week in pharmacies and community health centers. The program is expected to be “fully up and running” by early February, according to the White House statement. COVID-19 at-home tests can be ordered through covidtests.gov or the U.S. Postal Service for free and are expected to ship in seven to 12 days.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said he believes that testing remains crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the city, despite the high vaccination rate. As more testing becomes available, he anticipates a decrease in case numbers.
“These tests will help supplement our response, and allow the City to focus more on an equitable approach,” Arreguín said in an email. “With more testing available to the general public, we can focus our resources on those who may not have access to these tests, such as those who live in congregate settings and the unhoused.”