Padilla Cosponsors Legislation to Give Every American Lifesaving N95 Masks

More than 50 Democratic colleagues cosponsored the Masks for All Act in the House and Senate

WASHNGTON, D.C. — As we enter the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Omicron variant surging and cases skyrocketing, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with more than 50 of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate and House, to reintroduce lifesaving legislation to manufacture and distribute highly-protective N95 masks to every person in America.

Under the Masks for All Act – which was developed in consultation with health experts including Andy Slavitt, former COVID-19 advisor to President Biden and the former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Obama – every person in the U.S. would receive a free package of three N95 respirator masks. This includes individuals who are experiencing homelessness or living in group settings such as prisons, shelters, college dorms, and assisted living facilities, as well as all workers in health settings, from administrative and janitorial, to food service, doctors, and nurses.

“Universal access to N95 masks is key to helping prevent thousands of COVID-19 infections and deaths,” said Senator Padilla. “We have the opportunity to provide life-saving supplies to people all across the country and the time to act is now. I am proud to cosponsor the Masks for All Act because everyone deserves to be safe during the pandemic.”

“As we face the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, we should remember that not all face masks are created equal,” said Sen. Sanders. “Congress must demand the mass production and distribution of N95 masks, one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of the Covid virus. It is an absolute scandal that in the richest country in the history of the world, high-quality masks are not more readily available to frontline workers, health care workers, and all Americans. We are proposing that we do what our public health experts and scientists say we must do: provide all of our people with high-quality, N95 masks without cost, which could prevent death and suffering and save huge amounts of health care dollars.”

This legislation would require the federal government to use all available authorities, including the Defense Production Act, to eliminate shortages of N95 respirator masks and distribute them to the public as soon as possible. The proposal would use the United States Postal Service for distribution and set up pick-up sites at convenient community locations that are already providing essential services, such as Post Offices, pharmacies, schools, public transportation stations, and COVID-19 testing sites. It would also end the U.S. reliance on China and other countries for this essential lifesaving equipment.

According to recent reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend N95 or KN95 masks. When the CDC initially issued mask guidance in 2020, N95 masks were reportedly not recommended for the general public out of concern for shortages for health care workers. Health officials now say there is not a N95 shortage. However, counterfeit masks and general access remain an issue, for the public and in hospitals and health care facilities around the country.

Studies have shown that the widespread use of face masks could prevent tens of thousands of COVID-19 deaths, while other studies indicate universal mask wearing could save the U.S. economy $1 trillion. Today, the benefits of widespread N95 use would be even greater. According to recent data, an N95 respirator mask provides the individual wearer with at least 2.5 hours of protection against an unmasked person infected with the Omicron variant, compared to just 20 minutes of protection if they are wearing a cloth mask or 30 minutes if they are wearing a surgical mask.

To date, the coronavirus pandemic has infected over 60 million Americans and killed more than 835,000, and just this week the U.S. reported a record-breaking 1.35 million new coronavirus infections in one day – the highest daily total in the world.

To read a summary of the bill, click here.

To read the text of the bill, click here.