Maryland will give away 20 million N95 and KN95 masks The masks will be distributed through local health departments, state-run testing and vaccination sites, nursing homes, and community groups.
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Maryland will give away 20 million N95 and KN95 masks

High-filtration masks like N95 and KN95s provide better protection against the omicron strain, experts say. MIKI Yoshihito/Flickr / https://n.pr/3qooXIW hide caption

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MIKI Yoshihito/Flickr / https://n.pr/3qooXIW

Maryland will begin distributing 20 million of the high-filtration masks known as N95 and KN95 next week free of cost, Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Thursday.

It's part of a bid to prevent the further spread of the very transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19, which can get past cloth and surgical masks. Omicron is currently the dominant strain in Maryland, mirroring national and global trends.

"The cloth masks do provide some level of protection, but the tight fit [of N95 and KN95s] around your nose and face like this really has multiples of keeping you safer. With this variant being as contagious as it is, a lot of people say, 'Well, I don't have a KN95 mask or an N95 mask. I just have this cloth mask,'" Hogan said at a press conference. "[If] we've got, you know, 20 million of them out in the streets, it's going to take away that argument."

Maryland does not currently have a statewide indoor mask mandate in place, though jurisdictions like Prince George's and Montgomery counties both have that regulation enacted. Hogan said Thursday that a statewide mask mandate wasn't necessary because so many Marylanders already wear them. "I don't think we have any reason to change strategy," he said.

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The masks will be distributed through local health departments, at state-run testing and vaccination sites, in nursing homes, and state agencies for employees, per Hogan. He added that the Vaccine Equity Task Force will partner with community organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Hogan's announcement came on the same day that President Joe Biden said his administration would make free, high-quality masks available for Americans, and would also purchase 500 million more at-home COVID tests. But the governor said the two were unrelated, and that he expected Maryland to distribute its masks before the federal government.

"That's terrific news if and when it happens, but we'll be distributing our 20 million masks before that happens," said Hogan of the federal mask distribution.

It's unclear where Maryland is getting its stock of N95 and KN95 masks, and the governor's office has not immediately responded to a DCist/WAMU inquiry on the matter. Counterfeit high-filtration masks have flooded the market, leading to calls for consumers to be vigilant.

Hogan also announced six forthcoming COVID-19 testing sites, in addition to the 10 announced last week, to divert people away from hospital emergency rooms when they're looking for a COVID test. One of them will be located in Montgomery County, at Holy Cross Germantown Hospital.

Additionally, under a new Maryland Department of Health order that will take effect next week, all nursing home staff, volunteers, and vendors will be required to take twice-weekly tests when community transmission is high, regardless of vaccination status, and visitors must provide proof of a negative test or submit to a rapid test to gain entrance. This is more stringent than the policy that has been in place since September, which requires employees at nursing homes to be vaccinated or get tested weekly.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

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