The United States Postal Service had planned to distribute 650 million face coverings for the Trump administration in April to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, according to newly obtained internal documents reviewed by CNN.
But those plans were scrapped by the White House because it didn’t want to spark “concern or panic” among Americans, senior administration officials told The Washington Post.
“There was concern from some in the White House Domestic Policy Council and the office of the vice president that households receiving masks might create concern or panic,” one administration official told the Post.
The documents obtained by the transparency group American Oversight show the Postal Service was doing this in partnership with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Department of Health and Human Services and “a consortium of textile manufacturers.”
When reached by CNN, the White House declined to comment.
USPS was planning to ship the masks in April and was going to prioritize areas “which HHS has identified as experiencing high transmission rates of Covid-19,” according to a draft USPS release. Louisiana’s Orleans and Jefferson parishes were going to be sent masks first, followed by King County, Washington; Wayne County, Michigan; and New York.
A separate draft media response statement said the packages would include “five reusable face cloths, which can be used up to 15 times each.”
The scrapped plan provides a fresh look at how the White House was racing to fight the pandemic as it took hold in the US, and it adds to a growing list of steps the administration didn’t take earlier this year that may have helped slow the rapidly spreading virus.
The Post noted that at the time, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “had been working on coronavirus guidance that recommended face coverings, a reversal of its previous position, in the face of mounting evidence that people could spread the coronavirus without experiencing symptoms.”
“The Postal Service will utilize its unrivaled distribution network to deliver the face coverings. Letter carriers, rural carriers and others will deliver one pack of five face coverings to each residential delivery point and PO Box,” the draft USPS release read. “The packs will arrive labeled with a generic Postal Service barcode, not a specific address, and will include HHS instructions on proper use.”
The Post said that in place of the planned effort to widely distribute masks, “HHS created Project America Strong, a $675 million effort to distribute ‘reusable cotton face masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organizations across the country.’”
A spokesman for the department told the newspaper that “about 600 million of the 650 million masks ordered have been distributed … including 125 million set aside for schools.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.