Some top administration officials even hoped to tap the mail service’s vast network — and its unrivaled ability to reach every U.S. Zip code — to help Americans obtain personal protective equipment. The idea originated out of the Department of Health and Human Services, which suggested a pack of five reusable masks be sent to every residential address in the country, with the first shipments going to the hardest-hit areas.
At the time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been working on coronavirus guidance that recommended face coverings, a reversal of its previous position, in the face of mounting evidence that people could spread the coronavirus without experiencing symptoms. The Postal Service prepared for the possibility it might be deputized in the effort, drawing up a news release touting that it was “uniquely suited” to help. The service specifically identified Orleans and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana as the first areas to receive face coverings, with deliveries shortly thereafter to King County, Wash.; Wayne County, Mich.; and New York, according to the newly unearthed document, which is labeled a draft.
Before the news release was sent, however, the White House nixed the plan, according to senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations. Instead, HHS created Project America Strong, a $675 million effort to distribute “reusable cotton face masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organizations across the country.” About 600 million of the 650 million masks ordered have been distributed, according to an HHS spokesperson, including 125 million set aside for schools.