Biden to Distribute 400 Miiiillllion Masks

A day late and a dollar short.

President Joe Biden takes his mask off to deliver remarks on COVID-19 and the economy, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

POLITICO (“Biden plans giveaway of 400M masks as Omicron surges“):

The Biden administration is planning to distribute hundreds of millions of free, high-quality masks through pharmacies and community health centers, a White House official said Wednesday.

The 400 million newly available masks will be non-surgical N95s that are sourced from the government’s Strategic National Stockpile, as part of an effort to ensure Americans can access the more-protective masks during a record surge of Covid-19 cases.

The initiative — which POLITICO first reported Tuesday evening — comes in response to growing pressure on the administration to encourage Americans to abandon cloth masks in favor of more protective versions, amid evidence that the cloth coverings do not work as well against the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Public health experts and former Biden transition advisers had also lobbied the White House in recent weeks to give out masks, arguing that cheap and genuine N95s are still difficult for people to find.

The administration plans to make the masks available at tens of thousands of pharmacies and health centers by early February, the White House official said, which people will then be able to pick up for free.

The supply will not include child-sized masks, though two people with knowledge of the matter said the government is working to procure them.

Still, it represents the most significant federal effort to distribute face coverings since the pandemic began. The Biden administration last year sent out more than 30 million masks to sites within high-risk communities, though those were cloth coverings.

This new initiative follows weeks of debate over whether the administration should step in to distribute masks, with some senior officials skeptical that giving out N95s would make a significant difference in slowing the spread.

Several states have already dropped their mask mandates, and in deep red areas hardest-hit by Covid-19, there’s little appetite for mask wearing and other preventive measures that have been heavily politicized throughout the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, has refused calls to change its guidance to recommend that everyone wear high-quality masks like N95s, rather than cloth coverings.

While certainly better late than never, this is absurdly late. It’s been obvious for quite some time that cloth masks were inadequate against COVID, much less the Omicron strain. That CDC is still not budging on this score is beyond baffling.

And, while the folks at POLITICO seem genuinely impressed that this is “hundreds of millions” of masks, there are 330-plus million Americans. This is barely enough masks for everyone to have one.

Further, it’s simply inexcusable that, two years into the pandemic—and a year into this administration—the government hasn’t cracked down on the sale of knockoff masks from China. We can hardly expect American industry to crank up production of quality N95 masks when CDC is telling people not to wear masks, then telling people to wear ineffective masks, all the while allowing the Chinese to out-compete us on price by selling cheap, nearly worthless ones on Amazon and elsewhere.

We elected Biden to return adult supervision to the White House and he’s largely done that. He’s certainly been a million times better on handling this crisis than his predecessor. But we’re at the point that we should stop grading on a curve.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. this is absurdly late.

    I can’t disagree.

    Ditto on test kits (and four a household is pretty meager, ultimately).

    There is a bit of “fixed the barndoor after the horse has come home” to all of this (not that we are out of it, but the measures would have made a lot more difference some time ago).

    6
  2. Cheryl Rofer says:

    James, I think Biden has a great many other things to do than to play mask Santa Claus.

    [Referring to the headline]

    8
  3. Lounsbury says:

    It’s been obvious for quite some time that cloth masks were inadequate against COVID,

    That is simply an incorrect statement in terms of science.
    Cloth masks are and were ‘less effective’ than medical etc. but less effective =/= “inadequate” except in some strange political interpretation of risk mitigation. They were and are a risk mitigator, reducing in a material fashion primary infection risk. It’s bloody nonsense to say ‘inadequate’ as from day one if one wished to pay attention to the data the effectiveness percents have been available, but in risk mitigation (or insurance against bad events) one is never in the world of 100% but also cost/effectivenes trade-offs.

    Now certainly with the ramp up of other types of mask production the time to move to promoting usage of more effective masks is a better risk mitigator, although given your particular national problem with getting people to wear bloody masks period, it seems rather special to pretend provision of free masks is anything more than a poltical gesture. Really….

    19
  4. Tony W says:

    > a day late and a dollar short

    Remind me again how many masks that other guy distributed when it would have really mattered?

    Oh yeah, he sent them all overseas instead of protecting America.

    15
  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tony W: Beat me to it.

    So Biden and his admin aren’t perfect. Who is? Besides, these days the relevant measuring stick is “Are they sociopaths?”

    8
  6. KM says:

    Further, it’s simply inexcusable that, two years into the pandemic—and a year into this administration—the government hasn’t cracked down on the sale of knockoff masks from China. We can hardly expect American industry to crank up production of quality N95 masks when CDC is telling people not to wear masks, then telling people to wear ineffective masks, all the while allowing the Chinese to out-compete us on price by selling cheap, nearly worthless ones on Amazon and elsewhere.

    I’m not sure what to do with this statement. It’s weirdly anti-capitalist and protectionist while ignoring basic facts. This is free market in action, @James – something conservatives are supposed to be praising. KN95 are “knock-offs” because…. why exactly? I understand the objection of not using the same standards as us or possibly the concern of failing quality tests but “knock-off” implies a fake compared to an iconic brand name. It’d be nice if there was one international agreed standard but hey, that requires regulation *years* ahead of the crisis and conservatives tend to shut that kind of thing down. Something is better than nothing and if they are better than cloth masks then having them widely available is a good thing even if they aren’t “official”.

    The simple fact of the matter is we can’t mass-produce ANY new on command compared to China because we don’t have the physical capacity. That’s due to corporate greed biting us in the ass. Moving business offshore for cheaper labor to break unions ain’t a liberal position so this is another conservative mistake coming home to roost. If Americans need something legal they can get online cheaper, faster and easier from foreign sources that’s just as good, why should the government “crack down” on that? Why should an American business making masks need incentive to crank up production during a freaking pandemic – this is their golden time to make money but they need the government to take out competition first?

    Yes, we should have more N95s in general coming from American sources. More jobs at home is always good. No, the government shouldn’t be running a protection racket for the industry if KN95s are sufficient for the general population’s needs other than trying to enforce a global standard on quality. If they pass muster (and most will), they’re sufficient for the general population’s needs.

    11
  7. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: How is it that so many other developed countries have managed to distribute masks and test kits? This isn’t something that requires hours a day—he literally had to sign a damn order to release these masks.

    @Lounsbury: In an ideal world, everyone would have masked up. But this is a worldwide problem. Regardless, we’ve known since the beginning that N95s were better than surgical masks which were better than cloth masks by literal orders of magnitude. The only reason we ever wore cloth masks was to preserve the supply of the good masks for healthcare workers. Which was fine! But we’ve had two years to move beyond the stopgap.

    @Tony W: @OzarkHillbilly: As suggested in the OP, it’s high time to quit holding Biden to the Trump standard. Being better than Trump is too low a bar.

    @KM: KN94 masks from Korea are excellent. My objection is to the flooding of the market with nonconforming knockoffs from China, which makes it really, really hard for ordinary people to determine which ones are fake. It’s a perfectly reasonable regulatory function to disallow selling of fakes. It’s not “free market” to sell mislabeled junk; it’s fraud.

    5
  8. Cheryl Rofer says:

    If you’re looking for genuine high-performance masks, go to Project N95. They also have recommendations for getting a good fit. It’s a consortium of medical organizations.

    2
  9. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @James Joyner: I won’t pretend to know any more than this, but it appears there have been differences of approach among CDC, FDA, and Jeff Zients, who sits in the White House. I also suspect that the insurance companies have been lobbying hard to get a piece of the action. Maybe something like “Do as we say, or we’ll pour a part of our ill-gotten gains into campaigning for the Republicans.” I wish the press would investigate that thread.

    4
  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I was about to chime in re: Project N95. If any of you find many of the N95 masks to be uncomfortable, check out Korean KN94 masks as James suggested. They are roomier and easier to get a tight fit.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Neil Hudelson: The N95 does not dictate the roominess of the masks. We have tested an astounding variety of masks that comply with the N95 NIOSH standard, with widely varying roominess.

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Cloth masks are and were ‘less effective’ than medical etc. but less effective =/= “inadequate” …. They were and are a risk mitigator, reducing in a material fashion primary infection risk.

    I agree. My concern is that they give some people a false sense of security. Wearing a mask in a packed indoor gathering is safer (in terms of reducing Covid spread) than not wearing a mask in that location–but it’s safer still not to enter that location to begin with. A lot of people think the masks are like magic, keeping Covid away like garlic to vampires, and all the nuances–which types of masks are more effective, how to wear them properly, and the fact that cloth and surgical masks are much better at protecting others than protecting oneself–get lost. If the less effective masks make people likelier to go places they would otherwise be avoiding, they may actually contribute to the problem.

    4
  13. Kathy says:

    And, while the folks at POLITICO seem genuinely impressed that this is “hundreds of millions” of masks, there are 330-plus million Americans. This is barely enough masks for everyone to have one.

    It might be enough for everyone who wants one, and hasn’t obtained them from other sources.

    4
  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Tony W:

    Remind me again how many masks that other guy distributed when it would have really mattered?

    That’s great, but that doesn’t change the fact that when cases went down this summer, the administration should have used the lull to prepare for winter and instead did nothing.

    The fact the other guy was maliciously terrible in 2020 doesn’t excuse Biden being apathetically terrible in 2021.

    6
  15. Modulo Myself says:

    Yeah, this is something they should have done long ago along with giving away tests. You control the Presidency. Just do it.

    Their response to Covid has been so cynical and defeated. I think everyone like me–vaccinated and boostered, working from home in a place where most people are vaccinated–has been like screw it, what can you do except what you’re doing? But it should be obvious that this is not an acceptable position for a leader. I have zero power or say regarding Covid. Biden has the exact opposite. And his administration comes across as being as powerless as me.

    Are the Republicans and their bloated flunkies at fault? Sure, but so what. Jen Psaki is going to get some plush job and book deal and probably end up producing a show on Netflix about a ginger press secretary after this gig, and a month ago she was like, what are we going to do mail tests out? In specific ways, you can do better than these people are doing, simply by assuming a priori nobody actually like this type of cynicism coming from their nominal leaders.

    2
  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    There’s a brand of KN-95 masks named “Breatheze” that’s made in the US that I’ve been using for a while that has been working well for me

  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    KN94 masks from Korea are excellent. My objection is to the flooding of the market with nonconforming knockoffs from China, which makes it really, really hard for ordinary people to determine which ones are fake. It’s a perfectly reasonable regulatory function to disallow selling of fakes. It’s not “free market” to sell mislabeled junk; it’s fraud.

    To be fair, there’s just as many Chinese knockoff N95 masks floating around to.

    The real issue is companies like Amazon being allowed to sell fraudulent products and claim they’re not liable because it’s their “external partners” fault.

    8
  18. Kathy says:

    For the last third of 2020 and through the first half of 2021, I used KN95 masks of dubious provenance, but caught no COVID. Since then, I’ve used KF94 masks, which come with a KF94 on the box but say KN95 on the individual packaging. Still no COVID.

    I need to order a few more.

    I’d expected that with vaccination we’d all return to pleated quasi-surgical masks by the second half of last year. I figured that would be enough for lower COVID circulation. Now I wonder if I won’t need kF94 or KN95 masks for 2025.

    BTW, I scored a few 3M N95 respirators. They are great, but extremely uncomfortable. The straps around the head definitely make for a better seal, but the bridge of my nose really hurts after a few hours. So I’m saving them for higher risk occasions I can’t get out of.

  19. @Cheryl Rofer:

    James, I think Biden has a great many other things to do than to play mask Santa Claus.

    Biden personally, sure. The Biden Administration, however, ought to have been all over this sooner.

    @Tony W:

    Remind me again how many masks that other guy distributed when it would have really mattered?

    .

    It is not unreasonable to have wanted this administration to perform radically better on this topic than the previous one.

    I am all for reasonable assessments, but let’s not grade on too easy of a curve, either.

    7
  20. @Stormy Dragon:

    The real issue is companies like Amazon being allowed to sell fraudulent products and claim they’re not liable because it’s their “external partners” fault.

    Indeed.

    2
  21. gVOR08 says:

    This wasn’t a major issue until Omicron hit and got rolling in like Nov. So it’s really taken Biden a couple months to set this up. But yeah, he’s been in office a year now. And Pelosi’s been in charge seems like forever, and still no rainbows and unicorns. Throw the bums out and give the other guys a chance. Thank you, James, for the lesson by example on why the prez’s party loses in the midterms.

    5
  22. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m referring to the Green Lanternism of the headline, and, to some degree, what’s in the post. Biden should have done this. Biden should be doing that.

    Yes, he’s (nominally) in charge, but he’s got 50 Republicans in Congress working against him plus 2 (nominal) Democrats. It’s hard to believe that the insurance and healthcare industries are sitting back and saying “Whatever.” Plus the entire Republican machine working hard to see that as few are vaccinated and masked as possible.

    I’m all for criticizing where it’s due, and I would have liked to see a laser focus on getting the pandemic under control, but I also see a political party that is trying to gum up the works in the service of turning the US into an autocracy. Oh, and Vladimir Putin has put in a claim to Biden’s attention too.

    6
  23. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am all for reasonable assessments, but let’s not grade on too easy of a curve, either.

    Somebody around here keeps reminding us we have two, and only two, parties. So criticize all you want, but add we’re still way better off than with the other guys. James concluded,

    He’s certainly been a million times better on handling this crisis than his predecessor. But we’re at the point that we should stop grading on a curve.

    Even though I said at @gVOR08: that I didn’t think the criticism was entirely fair, I’d be OK with it had James quit a sentence earlier. The Perfection Party isn’t on the ballot in the midterms.

    4
  24. Matt Bernius says:

    This post, along with a tweet from a friend, inspired a number of thoughts. And since James provides me with a bully pulpit, I put them down here:
    https://www.outsidethebeltway.com/what-the-biden-mask-test-kit-plan-gets-right

    5
  25. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @James
    Methinks you are really trying to find reason to criticize Biden. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall any initial posting 6 months ago calling for free distribution of 800 million masks. Would that have satisfied the your current complaint of “day late, dollar short”?

    4
  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    Well James, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Sending out free masks and tests sounds like the obvious thing to do, doesn’t it? Except for maybe when doing so deprives those who need them more. In other words, we live in a finite world with finite resources. We cant’ do everything we want whenever we want. I don’t know what constraints the Biden admin was operating under, and I probably never will. I suspect the same is true for you.

    As suggested in the OP, it’s high time to quit holding Biden to the Trump standard. Being better than Trump is too low a bar.

    Yeah? Really? Tell the GOP because they can’t even rise that far. Until they do it will remain the most relevant standard.

    Do I want a magic pony? Sure, but I’d settle for covid being under control. Unfortunately the sociopaths that inhabit the GOP and the right wing media are doing their damndest to see to it that the Biden admin can’t because “elections.”

    4
  27. Tony W says:

    I think it’s entirely fair to hold Biden to the very low standard Trump has set. Why should the Ds have to significantly outperform the Rs simply to compete?

    That’s literally the choice we will make in 2024.

    5
  28. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: @Steven L. Taylor: Sure, I’d prefer Amazon do a better job of self-regulating. But it’s really a government function, not a corporate one, to approve masks.

    @Cheryl Rofer: It’s absurd to blame every failure on the Republicans. Biden is the President and he’s taking this action via Executive Order. He could have done it months ago.

    @gVOR08: But my point is that we should stop comparing Biden to Trump. It’s an absurdly low bar. Compare him to normal Presidents.

    @Bob@Youngstown: I’ve been harping on the need for better masks for at least a year.

    3
  29. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Sure, I’d prefer Amazon do a better job of self-regulating. But it’s really a government function, not a corporate one, to approve masks.

    That’s bull, Amazon has a responsibility not to defraud its customers, and intentional ignorance of what its actually selling does not absolve them of that responsibility. If the company has gotten too big to monitor its own operations, then it needs to reduce the size of its operations, not just shrug and tell the customers “it sucks to be you”.

    7
  30. wr says:

    @Modulo Myself: “Are the Republicans and their bloated flunkies at fault? Sure, but so what. ”

    That’s right. Don’t blame the people who are causing the problems — blame the ones who are trying to fix it, but not doing it as well as you’d like. That’s how you make the world better!

    6
  31. inhumans99 says:

    To get this out of the way, I agree with Steven and James that this should have been done at the latest during the final part of the third quarter or at worst in the fourth quarter of 2021. Seriously, this is really a better late than never solution by the Biden administration.

    I have been telling myself for quite some time now why are the testing kits (and masks, the good ones, if not KF95s, the surgical masks that are a step up from cloth, which I wear and no one has lectured me about) not simply being pushed out to everyone in the U.S.

    We are a wealthy country, and should have done this before now, but hey…I will take what I can get even at this late stage of the game (sometimes that touchdown 3 seconds before the clock winds down is what it takes to win the game).

    Okay, with that out of the way, yes…Biden has other priorities to worry about, Republicans that want to depose him, and want permission to shoot liberals (without realizing we might fight back, so the GOP are openly declaring they would be fine with going to war against a good chunk of this country, this type of attitude/talk from the GOP should rattle many members of the GOP who still have a bit of sanity left in them), and oh yeah, as I believe Stormy noted, he has to deal with Putin in the midst of a pandemic.

    Putin is starting to make most of the ostensibly free nations on earth (certainly many European nations) very nervous as his war machine is being rapidly spun up as I type this out.

    Yeah, I would say trying to avoid WWIII breaking out both abroad and in the U.S. (courtesy of the GOP) is probably occupying some of the headspace that maybe could have been devoted to speeding up getting everyone in the U.S. free testing kits and masks.

    That is why I am happy to criticize Biden (something I asked John430 if he was willing to do, criticize Trump, but his answer was a laughable yes, but I am not going to, so no, folks in the GOP are probably like John430 and only pay lip service to the idea that they could step up to chide their guy, but in reality never do so, or back track half-way through their starting to level some criticism against Trump, Ted Cruz comes to mind), but also shrug my shoulders and say hey, better late than never and it really is not funny when we say his actions are a million times better than the other guys…because they are.

    1
  32. wr says:

    @James Joyner: ” Sure, I’d prefer Amazon do a better job of self-regulating. But it’s really a government function, not a corporate one, to approve masks.”

    Really? You might want to take that up with Neil Gorsuch and his little friends.

    7
  33. wr says:

    @inhumans99: “We are a wealthy country, and should have done this before now”

    In response, I started to make a list of those things that we, as a wealthy country, should have done before this, but my hard disc is only a couple of terabytes.

    8
  34. just nutha says:

    @KM: To the best of my ability to discern what Dr. Joyner is going on about, any other masks are “knock-offs” because they’re not ‘Murkan made.

    3
  35. just nutha says:

    @James Joyner: My guess would be that other developed nations have been able to distribute masks and test kits because their populations and geographic size are orders of magnitude smaller than those of the United States. Additionally, I would guess that most of them don’t have an opposition party dedicated to destroying whatever said opposition has not created. But those are only guesses.

    3
  36. Dude Kembro says:

    @Bob@Youngstown:

    Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall any initial posting 6 months ago calling for free distribution of 800 million masks.

    This. So sick of Biden’s critics rewriting history, pretending like they knew (or could do) any better, like it’s all so easy and predictable. None of them were calling for 900 million masks to be distributed because none of us believed it was needed.

    I remember last summer. The consensus was COVID on its way out, due to vaccines. Nobody thought the right would go full pro-COVID, even to the right of Trump, prolonging the pandemic so yet another variant would be taking hold seven months later.

    It’s just like the “Hillary should’ve worn a cheesehead in Wisconsin” bs from people who thought Trump had no chance to win. Hindsight pretending to be foresight. It’s dishonest af.

    5
  37. Dude Kembro says:

    @James Joyner:

    How is it that so many other developed countries have managed to distribute masks and test kits?

    Pfft lol. How is that so many other developed nations have developed universal healthcare coverage, debt-free college, extensive rail and public transportion, lack of gun violence, law enforcement that doesn’t routinely kill citizens, and 80+% COVID vaccination rates?

    Many other developed nations don’t have populations of 350+ million living under a dysfunctional, undemocratic political system controlled by greedy corporations and right wing trolls.

    Even so, despite their masks and test kits, many other developed nations still had to go into lockdown last month as Omicron raged. Oops.

    Here, the stupidity and selfishness of wide swaths of American body politic is the problem. Masks and test kits are not going to solve it now and wouldn’t have last summer. COVID is going to run its course till enough of our stupid and selfish are dead and injured, sadly taking many good folk along with them.

    9
  38. CSK says:

    England is dropping its mask and vax passport mandates as of tomorrow.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-60047438

  39. inhumans99 says:

    @wr:

    I should explain or clarify what I was really trying to say, as what I should have said was that instead of those stimulus checks sending out as an example, $600 to every person (or nearly everyone in the U.S. who filed a tax return), the decision could have been made to take away $200 from the total and add that money to the pot of taxpayer dollars that would be used to purchase and distribute testing kits and masks to everyone in the U.S..

    U.S. taxpayers put a ton of money into the governments’ coffers and some of that money could have gone towards sending everyone kits and masks. I was not implying that someone like Bezos or the Koch brothers should have paid for everyone’s masks and kits.

    The thing is that Keven Drum is not wrong, everyone seems to be Monday Night Quarterbacking Biden’s decision to distribute masks and kits now instead or sometime last year. Drum notes that it does not seem like a lot of folks in the U.S., either at the state or Federal government level, or even the heads of major industries or firms (like the aforementioned Bezos and Koch bros) were screaming from the mountaintops that we need to get masks and kits out to everyone asap!

    Biden could have been steered towards the subject of sending out free masks and kits but if we are being honest with ourselves, were a lot of people bending his ear on this subject 6-8 months back?

    Instead of Fox News entertainment anchors telling Biden to send out masks and kits throughout 2021; instead, they just wanted to rile up the GOP Base to be against mandates to get the shots. Also, the unexpected resistance to vaccines from a rather large number of Americans meant Biden’s administration had to expend more energy than expected into getting folks to get the shots and this certainly was a distraction to thinking about other ways to help us adjust to Covid, like being able to easily test if you have Covid and having a high quality mask on stand-by if you needed to leave your home/apartment/trailer/etc. for any reason.

    2
  40. Dude Kembro says:

    @inhumans99:

    were a lot of people bending his ear on this subject 6-8 months back?

    No, and it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, because it does not solve the real problem; a chunk of the US is now effectively pro-COVID, so opposed mitigation they’re now to Trump’s right.

    I was in Vienna on Thanksgiving Day when it shut down again. Austrians were shocked. By the time I flew back (from Germany) in early December, the rest of the EU was on its way to lockdown. This, despite their masking, test kits, and relatively high vaccination rates.

    Are they doing better and recovering quicker? Yes, because vaccines and masking work. But if they didn’t see it coming and couldn’t fully avoid it, what makes us think we could have with vaccination rates 20 points lower? What good are masks when Americans won’t wear them? What good are tests for a “hoax”?

    N95 masks and at-home tests are not the issue in America. Lipstick on a pig.

    4
  41. Andy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The real issue is companies like Amazon being allowed to sell fraudulent products and claim they’re not liable because it’s their “external partners” fault.

    I work in the wireless industry and a constant problem over the last decade is the sale of uncertified cellular and wireless gear in the US including boosters and amplifiers that have a lot of potential to interfere with cellular networks and other critical systems.

    Amazon can certainly do a better job, but it’s not just them. The same problem exists on all the other e-commerce sites, especially ones that have “marketplaces” that allow vendors to use the platform to sell independently. This stuff is generally not sold by Amazon directly, but by third parties using Amazon’s marketplace platform.

    eBay and Craiglist have never been able to stop fraudulent listings, and sites like Alibaba let you drop-ship illegal or questionable items directly from China to the US. While I agree Amazon has done a pretty lousy job, they can’t police everything.

    But in the case of international trade, and sites like Alibaba, there is definitely a government role in preventing the importation of stuff that is illegal to sell in the US. Now, I don’t expect the feds to be able to inspect every shipping container or completely stop this either, but it’s been well known for at least a decade that this is a major trade problem and, naturally, nothing has been done. Fake masks are only the latest and very visible iteration of this longstanding problem.

    4
  42. Not the IT Dept. says:
  43. Kylopod says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: I thought it was an Austin Powers (Dr. Evil) reference.

    2
  44. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Andy:

    While I agree Amazon has done a pretty lousy job, they can’t police everything.

    Sure they can: by limiting the size of the company to that where they can keep track of who’s selling what through their system. If a company decides to grow beyond that point, that’s a deliberate choice to abandon their obligations, not an act of god.

    2
  45. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Sure they can: by limiting the size of the company to that where they can keep track of who’s selling what through their system. If a company decides to grow beyond that point, that’s a deliberate choice to abandon their obligations, not an act of god.

    And if Amazon limited their size absolutely no other company would jump in and deliver what they refused to. Because that’s the way world works.

    4
  46. Andy says:

    Anyway, I agree with the post entirely. These are both things I’ve been bringing up here for months and that many experts have been talking about for the last year.

    And the strained efforts to relieve the Biden administration of responsibility for any of it, or the idea that as long as Biden is better than Trump that it is wrong to point out errors, are both amusing and depressing.

    And I still don’t understand those who argue for the totemic significance and importance of wearing masks and how terrible non-mask wearers are, yet turn around and poo-poo the very clear science about mask quality. It’s almost as if the binary symbolism of wearing any mask is more important than actual effects.

    And I see people are still arguing against testing and suggesting the lack of testing availability is no big deal. I mean, there is a pretty obvious need to be able to know in a timely manner if one is infected – especially for a variant that has symptoms that are often largely the same as a cold, allergies, or the flu. Or do you really expect everyone to assume they have Covid at every little sniffle and then isolate for 5-10 days? That’s just dumb, testing is a very core and important tool in dealing with any pandemic.

    Just a couple of personal examples:

    If my kid isn’t feeling well in the morning, I want to be able to test them before sending them off to school to know if they have Covid or not. My son got Covid in early December and his symptoms were indistinguishable for a cold. Because we had tests, we knew he had Covid, we were able to test the rest of the family and determine that none of the rest of us did. That information drove us to isolate my son in his room and if any of us felt “off” we could do a quick test to see if we got or not. We used all our tests and now because of Omicron and the feds dropping the ball for testing, we can’t get more.

    Another example is that I would like the elder/memory care facility my sister lives in – which is full of some of the most vulnerable people – to be able to require the use of good quality and effective masks, and be able to test staff and visitors daily to keep Covid away from that population. With an ample supply of rapid tests, facilities could test everyone on a daily basis and make visitors take a rapid test before allowing them near the vulnerable population.

    Mask quality matters and so does test availability and timliness.

    6
  47. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And if Amazon limited their size absolutely no other company would jump in and deliver what they refused to. Because that’s the way world works.

    Exactly. It’s like suggesting that Facebook or Twitter should limit their user base so they can stop misinformation on their platforms.

    1
  48. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And if Amazon limited their size absolutely no other company would jump in and deliver what they refused to. Because that’s the way world works.

    OMG, you’re right! If it would be terrible is instead of one giant company that flouts the law, we had a bunch of smaller companies providing the same service which know they’ll be punished if they don’t look out for their customers.

    THE HORROR! THE HORROR!

    2
  49. Michael Cain says:

    I’ve only skimmed comments, so perhaps someone else has already pointed it out, but there are limits based on available technology and the manufacturing side of the logistics question. These are (in theory) reliable at-home tests administered by untrained people. Were such tests even available in, for example, March? June? September? In 100-million unit lots? Same thing for N95 masks. “I’d like 400M masks please. I don’t know what the take rate will be, but there might be a starting surge. When can I have 100M of them in my hands and queued up for quick delivery?”

    Back when I was a professional systems engineer, I used to keep a sign taped to one of my cubicle walls. At the top, in larger letters, it read “Consider the problem of having strawberry shortcake with 64,000 of your close family and friends on Saturday afternoon in Denver.” The rest of it walked through how the hard part of every aspect of the problem, starting with the venue, was 64,000.

    3
  50. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    So your theory is that the best way to police what’s sold on-line is to expand the number of businesses that will need to be policed.

    Dude, are you out of college yet?

    3
  51. James Joyner says:

    @just nutha: @KM: As I’ve explained at least half a dozen times already, the problem isn’t American/not-American or N95/KN94. The Korean standard is first-rate. That’s what I bought for my family a month ago and wear to work. The problem is the flooding of the market with Chinese knockoffs that are fraudulent. They don’t come any wear close to meeting the regulatory standard but are what predominante on Amazon and most online stores. It’s a widely-reported phenomenon.

    3
  52. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    How about only 60,000 close friends and family? 😉

    About masks in particular, it was a mistake, both by Obama and the Clown, not to build the strategic stockpile back up after much of it was used for the H1N1 pandemic.

    Now it may be Omicron is COVID’s last hurrah, or there may be other variants later on. even if it ends soon*, there will be some other respiratory pathogen in the future, and no one can say how far in the future. it could be decades, it could be months. With animals displaced by climate change and other human activity, the risk is ever present.

    So it would be a great idea not to order 400 million masks, but 4 billion, in the long term, over the next few decades. This should help other manufacturers decide they should get involved int he mask business.

  53. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    The problem is the flooding of the market with Chinese knockoffs that are fraudulent. They don’t come any wear close to meeting the regulatory standard but are what predominante on Amazon and most online stores.

    Amazon has a pretty bad counterfeit problem that they aren’t addressing well enough — particularly for medical products, like the masks.

    And there really should be congressional hearings on the matter. And government investigations — enough pressure that Amazon uses a few of their excess billions to actually check out the vendors for at least critical products.

    I don’t think Stormy Dragon’s desire for a smaller Amazon is what is needed, though. If anything the smaller a company is the less able it is to monitor things closely.

    Meanwhile, in the great Pacific Northwest, there are fake testing companies. Because if there is grift to be had, people will grift.

    https://www.king5.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/covid-19-testing-company-center-for-covid-control-washington/281-ccda9235-b68b-46fa-927d-cdec660797c9

    The sites can be found in several Washington counties, including Snohomish, King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Yakima counties, and claim to offer free, no appointment necessary COVID-19 tests. Center for Covid Control has not responded to KING 5’s request for comment.

    “It was such an odd experience. My mind was going like, ‘OK, how’s this going to pan out?'” said Anthony, who used one of the testing sites in Queen Anne and asked KING 5 not to include his last name for privacy reasons.

    Anthony got tested in December. He said the site had one employee, who he described as verbally aggressive and not wearing any protective gear.

    “No gloves, no visor, no mask, like all the things you’d expect of a pandemic and other testing sites, this place did not have. It was just a guy,” said Anthony.

    There’s some question as to whether the grift is collecting personal information for identity theft, or just defrauding the government. Hopefully the “just a guy” got covid and died.

    1
  54. Monala says:

    @Dude Kembro: In fact, those of us who thought we should still be wearing masks were getting mocked last summer for being paranoid, addicted to Covid precautions, and not trusting the science.

    2
  55. Gustopher says:

    @Dude Kembro:

    I remember last summer. The consensus was COVID on its way out, due to vaccines. Nobody thought the right would go full pro-COVID, even to the right of Trump, prolonging the pandemic so yet another variant would be taking hold seven months later.

    Armed protestors stormed the Michigan State Capitol on April 30th. The Ivermectin crowd was in full force. It was pretty clear that this was going to be a problem.

    What wasn’t clear was the limited duration of the vaccines and the level of breakthrough infections.