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400 Million N95 Masks To Be Given Away By Federal Government Starting Next Week

BOSTON (CBS) – From the nation's stockpile into the hands of Americans. President Biden said his plan to give out free N95 masks will better protect people against the Omicron variant.

The Biden administration said 400 million masks will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers nationwide. Americans can get up to three N95s free of charge next week.

"Having access to good, high-quality masks is important – especially for the most vulnerable during the next stage of the pandemic," said Tufts Medical Center Epidemiologist Dr. Helen Boucher.

N95 masks, Dr. Boucher told WBZ-TV, are intended for one-time use and the same mask shouldn't be worn daily.

"I would wear it in a high-risk situation – if you're gathering with people indoors, especially if you don't know their vaccination status," she said.

Not every frontline worker agrees free masks are the solution.

The former Chief Nursing Officer of Boston Medical Center, Lisa O'Connor, questions whether hospitals would make better use of this PPE.

"Sacrificing key medical equipment like this for average folks who may be going to the grocery store or out socializing with folks where the risk isn't that real – I think is unfair to them," said O'Connor.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association supports President Biden's plan to distribute masks.

"400 million does sound like a big number, but I think we're going to run through that pretty quickly," said union president Katie Murphy. "We think that anything that protects our patients, our communities should be applauded."

N95 masks offer better protection against COVID-19 than cloth masks, Dr. Boucher said, especially for the immunocompromised.

"I'm hopeful it won't be too long before most people don't need masks, but there will still be vulnerable people who will benefit from having a high-quality mask and I think they're the ones who will benefit from this offering from the government," Boucher said.

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