Coronavirus: White House sending 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries

WASHINGTON — Officials plan to distribute 25 million masks to thousands of community health centers and food banks nationwide beginning next month, the White House Coronavirus Task Force announced Wednesday.

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“These are nationwide networks that serve populations hit hard by the pandemic,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said. “While masks are widely available in many different shapes and sizes, many low-income Americans still lack affordable access to this basic protection.”

Zients said the masks will be delivered to 1,300 community health centers and 60,000 food pantries nationwide.

“Any American who needs a mask will be able to walk into these health centers or food pantries and pick up high-quality, American-made masks,” he said. “These masks will be available at no cost. They’ll be well-fitting cloth masks available in children’s and adult sizes, and they can be washed for reuse.”

Zients said the move was aimed at “helping to level the playing field, giving vulnerable populations quality, well-fitting masks.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people aged 2 and older wear masks while in public or around people who are not members of their households, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Dr. Rohelle Walensky, head of the agency, emphasized Wednesday that masks should be two or more layers, and fit snugly while covering a person’s nose and mouth.

“One of the most impactful things we can do is wear a mask, and this is so important during this critical period where cases are declining, but variants that spread more easily are increasing throughout our country,” Walensky said.

“By wearing masks in combination with social distancing; washing your hands; avoiding crowds and travel; and getting vaccinated while it’s available, we can bring an end to this pandemic.”

The U.S. continues to lead the world with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, with 28.2 million confirmed as of Wednesday morning, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. The viral infection has claimed nearly 503,000 lives nationwide.

More than 112 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 globally, resulting in 2.4 million deaths.