WASHINGTON — The Biden White House is considering sending masks directly to American households, according to three people familiar with the discussions, an action the Trump administration explored but scrapped.
The Covid-19 Response Team is evaluating the logistics of mailing out millions of face coverings, but no decision has been made, and the proposal hasn’t yet reached President Joe Biden for final approval, a White House official said.
The idea has been raised in several meetings among Biden’s top health experts in recent days, particularly as Biden continues to urge Americans to use masks as a primary defense against the spread of the coronavirus.
Biden has asked all Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his term, and he has signed several executive actions that mandate wearing face coverings on federal property and aboard public transit, moves President Donald Trump never enacted.
It’s unclear when the masks would go out to the public, how many would be included per residence and whether they would be disposable or made of cloth. It’s also not yet clear what the cost could be.
“There are a range of options on the table to help protect more Americans from the coronavirus and encourage people to mask up, but no decision has been made,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
A decision memo hasn’t gone through the policy process yet, a White House official said.
NBC News reported that the Trump White House scrapped a plan last year to deliver cloth masks to every U.S. household, opting instead to send them to nonprofit organizations and state agencies, according to an internal email from a senior administration official at the time.
The Department of Health and Human Services signed $640 million in contracts in May with a group of textile manufacturers to make masks under Project America Strong, according to federal purchase records. The largest contract went to Hanes, which made 450 million masks in May and July.
Since April, public health experts have encouraged elected leaders to promote mask-wearing. Trump was reluctant to do so, almost never sporting one in public. He defiantly removed a surgical mask when he returned to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was hospitalized in October after his own Covid-19 diagnosis.
By contrast, Biden has consistently worn masks, sometimes even doubling up on them on the campaign trail. He has also decided to wear them inside the Oval Office and in other White House spaces when it’s not possible to socially distance.
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Masks are a common and required sight in the West Wing, another departure from the Trump administration. Psaki typically wears an N-95 mask on her way to the lectern for the daily briefing and promptly puts it back on once she wraps up the news conferences.
While vaccine distribution continues to scale up, face coverings are likely to be here to stay. Top doctors predict that Americans will need to wear them until the U.S. reaches herd immunity and possibly longer.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that the Biden administration is even weighing whether people should double-mask. He indicated that it will wait for science to guide its recommendations, but he said the key is to wear at least one.
“If you’re talking about a physical barrier and as the CDC recommends, you want at least two layers within the mask as a physical barrier, and you feel maybe more of a physical barrier would be better, there’s nothing wrong with people wearing two masks,” Fauci said. “I often myself wear two masks.”