Khanna pushes $5 billion bill to provide free masks as Biden seeks mandate
Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden is urging governors to implement mask mandates to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    “Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum,” he said during a Thursday news conference in Delaware.

    Biden said wearing masks could save an estimated 40,000 lives. The former vice president called on Americans to “be a patriot” and protect one another from getting sick.

    Rep. Ro Khanna agrees. The Fremont Democrat recently introduced a bill that would provide $5 billion to help accomplish this goal.

    “We need to be getting people masks and making sure that they have the protection to deal with this pandemic,” he said in a recent Instagram video about the measure.

    The Masks for All Act of 2020 — which was also introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bernie Sanders — would mail three free reusable masks to every person in the nation, including those living in shelters or prisons. Additional masks would be available for pick-up at various community locations, such as schools, pharmacies and COVID-19 testing sites. The bill would also provide free N95 masks to health care providers.

    A fact sheet explaining why it’s important to use a mask, and how to properly wear and care for one, would be included with each free mask.

    Khanna, who called the bill a “common sense initiative,” said he was baffled by President Donald Trump’s reluctance to promote the use of masks.The congressman said wearing masks could help the nation get the pandemic under control and subsequently lead to the economy opening back up.

    Khanna said he was disappointed by some of his colleagues in Congress. He explained some legislators appear to believe wearing a mask is a sign of weakness.

    “It’s shocking to me because from my view listening to reason and listening to science is a source of strength,” he said.

    More than two dozen organizations have endorsed the bill, including the American Federation of Teachers, the African American Health Alliance, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Association of Community Health Centers.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also supports the measure. During a recent congressional hearing, Fauci told Sanders wearing masks undoubtedly helps to prevent the virus’s spread.

    “Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it’s giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of,” Fauci said.

    Other Silicon Valley legislators have spoken up about the need to wear facial coverings. During a Q&A webinar as part of the San Jose Speaks series, Rep. Zoe Lofgren urged her constituents to heed the advice of medical experts. The San Jose Democrat said it was disappointing masks had become a partisan issue.

    “It’s just a matter of science and medicine: It has nothing to do with politics,” she said. “…People have been manipulated in some cases into thinking this is some kind of political statement.”

    Health care providers could desperately use more N95 masks, according to Stacie Wardner, a patient care technician at HCA Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose. She said nurses and care technicians are currently only given one mask per day, unless it becomes severely soiled.

    Wardner, who has worked at the hospital for 21 years, said wearing the same mask throughout an entire shift goes against all her training. Prior to the pandemic, it was standard policy to change masks in-between each patient.

    “It really is hard to get out of that mindset,” she said. “It concerns me that I’m infecting another patient.”

    Although Wardner always loved her job, she said lately she’s considered leaving the profession.

    “I was born to do this,” she said, “But I don’t feel respected or protected.”

    The issue of face masks has been a hot topic in Santa Clara County this week. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to issue fines of up to $500 for not wearing masks in public.

    “We have so many closed businesses and people out of school and unemployed and headed towards bankruptcy,” County Supervisor Mike Wasserman previously said. “We can’t afford the time to sit down with various groups and negotiate.”

    There have been 12,962 cases of the coronavirus and 207 deaths in the county as of Tuesday, according to Santa Clara County Public Health.

    According to the World Health Organization, masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Individuals should also frequently wash their hands, avoid touching their faces and maintain a minimum physical distance of at least one meter from others.

    Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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