Coronavirus Pandemic

Costs of Masks, Tests Deepen Pandemic Wedge Between Haves and Have-Nots

Public health experts have recently urged people to dump their cloth masks in favor of higher-quality options and to test more frequently to curb the virus

In this April 6, 2020, file photo, 3M Co. 8210V N95 particulate respirators are photographed in Hong Kong, China.
Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In recent weeks, as the omicron variant spread rapidly across the U.S., Americans have found that the financial costs of the pandemic are increasingly falling on their shoulders.

As COVID-19 cases have climbed, public health experts have urged people to dump their cloth masks in favor of higher-quality options — especially the disposable N95 or KN95 masks — and to test more frequently to curb the virus.

For some, the added financial burden is an irritation, but still affordable. To others, the prospect of paying $1 for a single disposable mask or $24 for a test kit is an economic impossibility, raising the specter that the pandemic will continue to exacerbate inequalities.

During the pandemic, three-quarters of workers said it was very or somewhat difficult to make ends meet, 40% said they couldn’t come up with $400 in the event of an emergency and around 20% said they went hungry because they couldn’t afford enough to eat, according to the Shift Project, an ongoing survey of American hourly wage workers operated by Harvard University sociologist Daniel Schneider.

“These are the workers facing the virus, and we are asking them to buy high-quality masks and pay for rapid tests?” Schneider said. “For many of these workers, it’s just not a possibility — this is about food on the table. And when you face that impossible choice, the devolution of pandemic prevention to impoverished workers is really unrealistic.” 

Read the full story on NBCNews.com here. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance, saying that N95 masks offer the highest protection.
Contact Us