January 27, 2022
Americans will be able to order free rapid coronavirus tests Wednesday
WASHINGTON - A federal website where Americans can order free coronavirus rapid tests will be launched Wednesday and allow each household to order up to four tests, senior administration officials said Friday.

The website, called covidtests.gov, will require that users provide their names and addresses to receive the tests. The government purchased 500 million rapid tests that will be available to every household, and will limit to four the number of tests sent to each address, the senior officials said during a briefing with reporters.

The officials said the tests would be shipped within 7 to 12 days after being ordered, a timeline that experts say means the tests probably will become available too late to significantly blunt the impact of the current omicron surge along the Eastern Seaboard, where the outbreak may be beginning to slow. But the tests could make a difference to the parts of the country that have yet to face the worst of the surge.

President Biden announced Thursday that the government would purchase an additional 500 million tests to help prepare for future surges, meaning the government will eventually make 1 billion free tests available. The senior officials said the White House has worked closely with the U.S. Postal Service to help set up the website and ensure that the tests can be distributed.

Senior officials said their testing efforts would also be targeted to reach the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities. The administration is launching a free hotline for those without a reliable Internet connection, and said it would prioritize orders to communities “that have experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly during this omicron surge,” according to a White House fact sheet.

CDC: N95 masks offer superior protection to cloth coverings and other masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided its most explicit guidance to date Friday on the superior protection offered by N95 masks compared to cloth coverings and other masks.

But the agency stopped short of recommending that people opt for N95 masks in updating its mask guidance.

But the latest CDC information ranks the different levels of protection afforded by different masks and how they should be used. “Loosely woven cloth coverings” offer the least protection, the updated guidance says. Well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95 masks offer more protection. And well-fitting respirators, including N95 masks, which are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “offer the highest level of protection.”

Both N95 and KN95s are considered respirators that filter out most virus particles, and come with markings to indicate they are authentic. Both types of masks must form a seal to the face to work properly.

N95 masks, which are approved by NIOSH, are designed to filter up to 95 percent of particles, according to the CDC. KN95s are supposed to meet a comparable Chinese standard, but there is no Chinese regulatory agency ensuring that, according to Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit organization that distributes free N95s and children’s masks in the United States. However, U.S. firms make high-quality KN95s, she said.

In a statement, CDC said it updated the webpage to “lay out the protection provided by available masks and respirators, noting that some provide better protection than others.” The updates, the agency said, “reflect the science on masking, including what we have learned in the past two years, and will provide people the information they need to improve how well their masks or respirators protect them.”

When the CDC issued its initial mask guidance in 2020, health officials did not urge their use out of concern that health workers might be unable to get them. But health officials said there are no longer serious shortages of N95 masks, a fact also made clear on the CDC website. (Source: The Washington Post)
Story Date: January 17, 2022
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