White House says it will make 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free

The masks will be shipped this week and should become widely available late next week

Updated: January 19, 2022 - 12:03pm

The Biden administration said Wednesday it is making 400 million N95 masks available free to the American public to protect against COVID-19 infection.

President Biden is expected to formally announce the initiative in a White House press conference related to his first year in office. 

Masks will be available to the public at "tens of thousands of local pharmacies," according to the White House. They will ship later this week and begin to arrive and become available late next week. 

The administration has been under pressure to provide high quality masks amid a spike in COVID cases, with the emergence of the virus's highly contagious Omicron variant.

Last week, some Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would send three N95 masks to each person in the U.S.

Biden and his team have faced similar criticism for their failure to act months ago on COVID test kits. 

The masks will be shipped from the Strategic National Stockpile, which has over 750 million of them, more than triple the figure that was available in January 2021, says the White House.

In recent weeks, members of the medical-science community, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said that cloth masks offer limited impact on stopping the virus from spreading and that N95 and KN95 masks are what should be recommended for usage.