WASHINGTON - A bill called "Masks for All" was introduced Tuesday by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Bay Area Congressman Ro Khanna, which calls for providing free masks for everyone in the United States as a measure to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The bill would ramp up domestic production of masks and send three high-quality, reusable masks to every person in the United States through the U.S. postal service, free of charge.
People without mailing addresses in prisons, homeless shelters and assisted living facilities would also be provided with masks. There would also be community sites where people could pick up free masks at post offices, pharmacies and COVID-19 testing sites.
The bill also calls for N-95 respirators and surgical masks to be provided to all healthcare workers.
Any excess masks produced to be added to the Strategic National Stockpile.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, a UCSF professor of infectious diseases, says the bill makes sense.
"If you put all the science together, masking is the most important thing you could do as a pillar of control," said Dr. Gandhi. She says Taiwan took similar measures in March and had success in containing the virus.
"They literally turned their factories into mask-making factories. They said we are going to provide masks for all in our community. They mass-produced masks," Gandhi said. "They had only eight deaths."
Gandhi says the science is clear, even bandanas make a difference.
"We've seen in all of of our animal models and humans with other viruses that all masks, even simple cloth masks filter out the majority of viral particles," said Gandhi.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, was in Tennessee saying masks are essential to prevent the recent spikes of COVID-19.
"In order to be able to get back to school, in order to ensure our businesses stay open every Tennessean, whether you live in a rural area or urban area, needs to wear a mask," said Birx.
While most scientists agree, the message still is mixed from the White House.
Twitter temporarily halted Donald Trump Junior's account after he shared a video with unsupported claims from doctors telling Americans they do not need to wear masks to prevent the coronavirus transmission.
The CDC director has said If every American masked the coronavirus might be able to be controlled within 6-8 weeks.
More than half the states and the District of Columbia now have some type of masking order to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
A big question about the Masks for All bill is compliance.
"You can give people masks all you want but if they're not wearing it appropriately, you're going to end up with the same problem," said Rose Marie Griffin, a resident of Martinez who was shopping with a mask on.
Some say the Masks for All bill would be cost-effective.
"They're allocating about $5 billion for 330 million people in the United States, that total cost of $15 per person," said Henry Brady, Dean of the U.C. Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy.
Brady notes that President Trump only recently started wearing a mask as some polls show Democrats and many independents supporting masks.
"The politics are in their favor here, that most people especially the crucial swing voters they care about actually think masks are a good idea," says Brady.
Brady says the bill is unlikely to get bipartisan support.
"If this had been done a few months ago, this would have been a great way to get the word out about the importance of wearing masks. Right now it comes as sort of an afterthought and it's not clear the Trump administration would be committed to the notion they should push for people to use these masks," said Brady.
Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana