The United States Postal Service drafted plans to distribute 650 million reusable cotton face masks to Americans last spring — five to every household — as the country grappled with the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak, according to USPS internal documents obtained by a watchdog group.
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A U.S. Postal Service worker wearing a protective mask and face shield removes mail from a dropbox in San Francisco, Calif., Aug. 17, 2020.
The draft was among nearly 10,000 pages of USPS documents turned over to American Oversight in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The emails, memos and legal correspondence released illustrate how the agency struggled to address the pandemic in its earliest weeks, as front-line postal workers feared for their safety and executives worried about disruptions to the agency’s service and funding.
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According to the draft release, the agency, working with the Department of Health and Human Services, would first send masks to areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates at the time — including Louisiana’s Orleans and Jefferson parishes; King County, Washington; New York; and Wayne County, Michigan.
“Our organization is uniquely suited to undertake this historic mission of delivering face coverings to every American household in the fight against the COVID-19 virus,” the then-postmaster general and CEO, Megan J. Brennan, said in the prepared release.
The White House declined to comment on the draft proposal, referring questions to the Department of Health and Human Services.
An HHS spokesperson said roughly 600 million of the total 650 million masks have been delivered under Project America Strong as “part of a multi-prong approach to re-opening the American economy while limiting the spread of COVID-19.”
A spokesman for the Postal Service did not respond to a message seeking comment.
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Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services,, Robert Kadlec, on Capitol Hill, Sept. 16, 2020.
“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 Washington Post about the proposal.
Instead, the initiative, announced by the Trump administration under the “Project: America Strong,” was a more targeted program to send face masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies and health care, community and religious organizations.
The program is no longer accepting new requests for face masks, according to its website, and instead encourages applicants to purchase face masks elsewhere or make their own.
President Donald Trump said on Aug. 12 that the government would also send 120 million face masks to schools ahead of the fall.
“The Postal Service connects every single person in American, and the president could have used it for public health, but he didn’t,” Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight, told ABC News, calling out Trump. “An opportunity to deliver science-based public health