Great Britain

Trump administration scrapped plan to distribute 650m masks nationwide in April, new documents show

As the president continues to raise questions about the wisdom of wearing masks, in contrast to the overwhelming bulk of scientists, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show the government was to deliver a five-pack of masks to every US household in April.

The documents, obtained by the Washington Post from American Oversight, a watchdog group, reveal the US Postal Service (USPS) had even prepared a draft press release to accompany the packages.

“The US Postal Service today announced it will distribute 650 million reusable cotton face coverings on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to every residential delivery point in America, beginning in areas which HHS has identified as experiencing high transmission rates of Covid-19 and to workers providing essential services throughout the nation during this pandemic,” the proposed release read.

“This unprecedented undertaking is being done in partnership with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a consortium of textile manufacturers. Project: America Strong sub-task force within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Unified Command Structure, is complementing the Administration’s whole-of-nation response to Covid-19.”

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It added: “The first shipments are expected to reach US households as early as April.”

The Post said the plan to distribute the masks was scrapped by the administration because it did not want to cause panic. Rather, the health department created Project America Strong, a $675m effort to distribute “reusable cotton face masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organisations across the country.” About 600m of the 650m masks ordered have been distributed, it said.

“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 official told the newspaper.

Mr Trump has defended his government’s actions amid controversy sparked by a new book by Bob Woodward, that the president was aware of the seriousness posed by the virus as early as February. He said he did not want to create panic by being more upfront with the public.

The revelations come as the number of infections from coronavirus in the United States hit 6.7m and the number of deaths stands at least as many as 197,000, with new outbreaks appearing all the time, most recently in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, the president has continued to raise questions about the effectiveness of wearing masks, holding large campaign rallies with little social distancing, and rarely wearing a mask himself.

This week, the Centres for Disease Control director, Robert Redfield, told Congress wearing a mask may be even more effective than a vaccine.

“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70 per cent. And if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will,” he said.

Asked about Mr Redfield comments later, Mr Trump said his health chief was “mistaken” and may have “misunderstood the question”, adding: “Masks have problems too … A lot of people did not like the concept of mask initially, Dr [Anthony] Fauci didn’t like it initially.”

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