The U.S. Postal Service was prepared to mail face masks to every American household in April, but the White House scrapped the plan at the last minute over fears it would cause a panic, according to multiple reports.
The Washington Post first reported Thursday that the Postal Service had a draft news release prepared announcing a plan from the Department of Health and Human Services to deliver more than 600 million face masks to every residential address in the country. The Post obtained the draft release as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
NBC News later independently confirmed the Post report.
At the time, in mid-April, coronavirus cases were surging in places like New York City, Seattle, New Orleans and Detroit, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was working on developing guidelines to recommend wearing face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But the White House ended up rejecting the mask-mailing plan, the Post and NBC News reported. One administration official reportedly told the Post that “There was concern from some in the White House … that households receiving masks might create concern or panic.”
About 135,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus since April.
Bob Woodward wrote in his new book that President Donald Trump knew the seriousness of the coronavirus early on, and said in an audio-recorded interview March 19 that he intentionally downplayed the danger to the public so as not to cause a panic. In August, Trump was recorded telling Woodward that “nothing more could have been done” to contain the virus.
Trump waited months before wearing a mask in public, and has repeatedly questioned their effectiveness and ridiculed those who wear masks, such as Democratic opponent Joe Biden.
Rather than mail masks, HHS later launched a more-than-$600-million project to manufacture and distribute reusable cotton masks to businesses, health-care facilities, state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations. After distributing about 600 million masks, that program ran out of masks by July, NBC News reported, due to heavy demand.
A public health expert told NBC News that mailing masks directly to homes would have sent a stronger message early in the pandemic and stressed the importance of wearing face masks.
Since that time, mask-wearing has become a politically divisive issue, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that they are most effective and practical way of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.