The Biden administration will send millions of face masks to vulnerable communities across the United States, the White House announced Wednesday.
The masks will be reusable and come in packs of two; Officials described them as "high-quality, washable, and consistent with the mask guidance from the CDC."
25 million masks will be sent to 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the country, as well as 1,300 community health centers. An estimated 12 to 15 million Americans will receive masks because of the initiative, according to the White House.
"Many low-income Americans still lack affordable access to this basic protection," COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said in a Wednesday briefing. "These masks will be available at no cost."
The first masks will be available at the beginning of March and the initiative will continue into May.
"Not all masks are equal," Zients said. "[This] is an effort that focuses on people who may be particularly in need of the extra support to stay safe and to meet the president's mass challenge of masking up for the first 100 days."
The program – which is expected to cost $86 million – is a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration was considering a program that would send cloth face masks to all Americans, but Wednesday’s announcement confirmed that they would take a more targeted approach and focus on low-income populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
President Joe Biden had previewed the program on Tuesday in a virtual discussion with Black frontline workers from across the country.
"We're probably going to be sending out an awful lot of masks around the country very shortly, millions of them," the president said.
On Wednesday, officials reiterated the need to wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible, both measures they said could push the country closer to the end of the pandemic.
"One of the most impactful things we can do is wear a mask,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. "This is so important during this critical period where cases are declining, but variants that spread more easily are increasing throughout our country."
Officials also promised immediate rollout of the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it’s authorized by the FDA later this week. The agency confirmed Wednesday that the shot is both safe and effective.
If authorized, the administration plans to allocate three to four million doses next week. Johnson & Johnson has guaranteed 100 million doses by the end of June.