As the coronavirus death toll continues to rise, President Joe Biden's administration is reportedly considering sending face masks to every American household. Although a decision memo hasn't gone through the policy process and a proposal hasn't reached the president's desk, a White House official told NBC News the idea had been raised in several meetings among Biden's top health experts and the COVID-19 Response Team is evaluating the logistics of mailing out millions of face coverings.
At this time, details of the possible proposal remain unclear, including when the face coverings would be sent, how many would be delivered to each household, and whether they would be disposable or made of cloth. A cost of such a large-scale masking effort is also not yet clear. While White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement, "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," three people familiar with the discussions told the new source sending face masks directly to Americans is being considered.
The news follows previous reports that a similar effort had been proposed and subsequently scrapped under former President Donald Trump's White House. A September report from The Washington Post found the United States Postal Service offered to send cloth masks to every household in April 2020. A draft press release for the program said the masks would first be distributed to homes in areas with high numbers of cases at the time. In an internal email from June, the Department of Health and Human Services said the "White House" instead decided to scrap the plan in favor of having the masks be manufactured and distributed to businesses, state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations. A subsequent NBC News report cited health experts who said distributing masks to directly households in the early days of the pandemic would have sent a stronger message encouraging Americans to wear masks, with Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, stating that it would have meant "we are saying, 'This is so important that we are going to put them in the mail and get them to you.'"
While it remains unclear if Biden moves forward with a similar proposal, he has made it clear that the ongoing pandemic is of his main concern within the first days of his presidency. Along with asking Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency, he signed an executive order urging his first hours in an office requiring mask-wearing and social distancing on all federal properties. He also signed an order that created the Covid-19 response coordinator position, which will advise the president and oversee the distribution of vaccines, tests, and other supplies.