As COVID-19 infections continue to surge across America and nearly 30 states impose public mask-wearing requirements, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and over three dozen of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate and House introduced lifesaving legislation today to manufacture and distribute high-quality, reusable masks to everyone in America.
Senate co-sponsors of Sanders’ Masks for All Act include Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Representatives Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) introduced the Masks for All Act in the House, with more than two dozen cosponsors.
The proposal, developed in consultation with health experts including Andy Slavitt, the former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Obama, would use the United States Postal Service to distribute three free, reusable masks to every person in the country, including individuals who are experiencing homelessness or living in group settings such as prisons, shelters, college dorms, and assisted living facilities.
According to one estimate, widespread mask wearing could save over 40,000 American lives by November 1, while another analysis predicted that widespread mask wearing would save the U.S. economy $1 trillion. In questioning by Sanders at a recent Senate hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci voiced his support for the proposal, echoing the consensus of the medical community. “There’s no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected. So it’s people protecting each other," Fauci said. “Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it is giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of."
The legislation also sets up pick-up sites for additional masks at convenient community locations that are already providing essential services, such as Post Offices, pharmacies, schools, public transportation stations, and COVID-19 testing sites. Additionally, the Masks for All Act provides surgical masks and N-95 respirators to all workers in health settings. To do this, the Masks for All Act would use all available authorities, including the Defense Production Act.
"We are the only high-income country in the world where infections and deaths are skyrocketing instead of falling. Nearly 150,000 are dead and 1,000 more are dying every day. That is an absolute scandal," said Sanders. "Dozens of my colleagues and I are proposing that we do what our public health experts and scientists say we must do. This is not a political or partisan issue. Providing all of our people with high-quality, reusable masks without cost could save tens of thousands of lives and avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in economic harm."
"The fact is, this administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a failure," said Harris. "Its inaction when it comes to fully implementing the Defense Production Act and preparing our country’s stockpile of protective equipment and supplies, including masks, has been disastrous and deadly. Congress must put forth solutions that can make an immediate difference and get resources to the communities most in need. I am proud to join my colleagues on this legislation to ensure every person in the United States has access to the protective gear they need to fend off this virus."
"The only way we will stop the spread of the coronavirus is if every American is equipped to protect themselves," said Markey. "That begins making sure everyone can follow the public health guidance to wear a mask when appropriate. Doing so will help stop the spread of this virus and protect frontline health workers and essential workers risking their lives everyday on the job and seniors in nursing and assisted living facilities. I thank Senator Sanders for his leadership on this legislation that recognizes that during a pandemic, access to a mask is a fundamental right."
"Battling the coronavirus is a nationwide effort, in which each and every one of us needs to do our part to squash the rate of transmission," said Merkley. "That means all Americans—regardless of their income or where they live—need access to tools, including masks, that are essential to keeping people safe and flattening the curve."
"COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the United States and it’s far past time we enforce a national mask wearing policy and equip communities with the proper tools to fight further spread," said Senator Gillibrand. "We have been fighting this outbreak for the better part of 2020 and President Trump has failed to protect the health and economy of our nation by addressing serious PPE shortages. As public health experts expand face mask requirements, we must ensure every person has access to a protective mask—regardless of risk, background, or socioeconomic status."
"The countries and states that have mandated masks have done a better job limiting the spread of coronavirus than those who have not. It’s clear we need a mask mandate, but we also need to make sure that everyone has a mask," said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “If the White House won’t take action to protect the American people, Congress will. This bill heeds the advice of scientists and health experts and ensures that everyone can keep their families safe without worrying about cost or adequate supply."
"We are the wealthiest country on earth, yet our health care workers are still facing a shortage of N-95s, our essential workers are having to purchase their own protective face masks, and far too many vulnerable Americans are being left to figure out how to procure this basic need," said Rep. Khanna. “Congress has a responsibility to step up where the White House has abdicated its responsibility and ensure every family has the equipment they need to stay safe. If we can afford a $740 billion defense budget, we can afford to send every American a face mask. And if we’re asking folks to wear a mask, which is absolutely essential, it’s on us to provide one."
"This Administration has taken too long playing politics while Americans continue to fall ill and die. We must embrace bold proposals like the Masks for All Act to combat COVID-19 and save lives," said Congresswoman Trahan. "If the White House refuses to take action to ensure the safety of the American people, including ensuring that each person has access to safe, reusable masks, Congress will."
"This bill is an example of Congress at its best: A common-sense, low-cost solution that saves American lives without introducing needless partisanship," said Slavitt. “At this point I don’t think there’s a prominent expert in the world who doesn’t think masks for all is a good and necessary idea. I am among many who believe American innovation and the Defense Production Act are critical pieces to unlock."
The bill has been endorsed by the African American Health Alliance, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Association of Flight Attendants (AFA- CWA), the Arc of the United States, the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Democracy for America (DFA), Families USA, First Focus Campaign For Children, Indivisible, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Little Lobbyists, Make the Road NY, Morehouse School of Medicine, MoveOn, National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), National Center for Transgender Equality, National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), National Medical Association, National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPHMU), People’s Action, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Public Citizen, the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, Social Security Works, United We Dream, and Working Families Party (WFP).
To read a summary of the bill, click here.
To read a section-by-section outline of the bill, click here.
To read the text of the bill, click here.