Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced legislation this week that directs the Trump administration to send three “high-quality, reusable” masks to every person in the United States, and would provide $5 billion to increase mask production. This is a good idea.
Wearing masks saves lives, and not just other people’s lives. There’s evidence that it limits the chances of catching the coronavirus. Wearing a mask might save your life, too.
Sending masks to every American won’t convince them all to wear a mask. It is not a corrective for the behavior of Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, who has flaunted his refusal to wear a mask, and who said Wednesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. But distributing high-quality masks would provide Americans inclined to behave responsibly with masks that maximize health benefits.
And it would make it easier for those with doubts about masks to slip one on.
The legislation also directs the Trump administration to ensure that medical workers have a sufficient supply of the most effective protective masks, known as N95 masks.
It’s unfortunate that the Trump administration requires this kind of prodding. Ramping up of the domestic production of protective gear should have been an urgent national priority months ago. Instead, Americans have endured a familiar mix of bluster, denials and half measures.
The virus continues to spread freely here, even as other nations have brought it under control.
A national campaign to encourage people to wear masks, including the distribution of free masks, is not sufficient to confront the pandemic. The United States needs to remedy a parallel failure to construct adequate testing infrastructure, and rules need to be followed.
But masks would help. Right now, Americans need all the help they can get.