When walking around the neighborhoods and grocery stores in Philadelphia, virtually everyone I see is wearing a mask. That’s great news — we should all be happy to endure a little discomfort to fight the pandemic. Unfortunately, nearly all the masks are simple cloth varieties. While these are better than nothing, there are better masks available. President Biden and his administration should be pointing this out, and doing what they can to get those masks into the hands of the American people.
There have been multiple studies on whether masks work to slow the spread of coronavirus, and the general consensus is that they do — but the better the mask, the more they help. Cloth masks are good, 3-ply surgical masks are better, and medical-grade N95 or N100 respirators are better still. Yet so far public health authorities, and Biden himself, have typically just recommended the use of masks in general without any quality distinctions.
The CDC website is confusing on this point. It recommends that people do not use medical-grade N95s, as apparently there is still a global shortage and they should be reserved for medical workers. But it also recommends against surgical masks, which are widely available, for the same reason, and does not mention KN95s, which are probably only a bit worse than normal N95s. (Alas, there are reportedly a slew of counterfeit or low-quality masks out there.)
The Biden administration could upgrade its pandemic-fighting strategy by clearly explaining what kinds of masks are good and appropriate for normal citizens. It could further certify which manufacturers are trustworthy, so people aren’t tricked by sleazy ripoff artists on Amazon. Best of all, as part of Biden’s invocation of the Defense Production Act, he could send every household in the United States a free weekly supply of the best masks that can be produced (as Taiwan is doing). I would wager that within a month or two, every American could be using KN95s at least, and the spread of coronavirus would be slowed markedly, saving many thousands of lives.