Public health experts and former Biden transition advisers have also lobbied the White House in recent weeks for handing out masks, arguing that cheap and genuine N95s are still hard for people to find, POLITICO reported last week.
The White House declined to comment.
But the plan is expected to rely heavily on pharmacies – which have become an integral part of the administration’s vaccination campaign – to also distribute the N95s at no cost.
HHS Assistant Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell told the Senate Aid Committee during a Tuesday hearing on the pandemic that the federal government has 737 million N95 masks in the strategic national stock taken from 12 domestic manufacturers.
“We are also in the process of issuing a hot base production deal so we are able to maintain that capacity that we currently have, even as demand declines,” O’Connell testified.
President Joe Biden signaled last week that the administration planned to distribute masks for free, acknowledging that for some individuals, getting high-quality masks is “not always affordable or convenient.”
“I know we all wish we could finally finish wearing masks,” Biden said during a speech announcing a new effort to use the military to support hospitals. “I understand that. But they are a really important tool to stop the spread, especially of a very transferable Omicron variant.”
Biden on Wednesday is also scheduled to hold a press conference where he is expected to announce the administration’s efforts to curb the Omicron rise and make Covid-19 tests and masks more accessible.