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Biden Shelves Mass Mask Shipments In Favor of Targeted Push

Shira Stein and Josh Wingrove
·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden will announce a program to send cloth masks to disadvantaged U.S. communities to curb the coronavirus pandemic while deciding for now to shelve a proposal to send masks to every American, according to two administration officials familiar with the plans.

The U.S. will probably send millions of masks across the country “very shortly,” Biden said Tuesday at a virtual roundtable event with Black essential workers who discussed the pandemic response with him. ”We’re probably going to be sending out an awful lot of masks around the country, very shortly -- millions of them,” he said, without elaborating.

Brig. Gen. David Sanford, director of the supply chain task force, then told Bloomberg Law that the administration intends to focus first on “key disadvantaged populations.”

The administration is taking the more targeted move after considering whether to send masks to all Americans, a notion that’s been shelved for now, according to another administration official with knowledge of the discussions.

It isn’t immediately clear which communities and groups will be sent masks, though Biden has made equity a core goal of his pandemic response. Sanford said the masks would be sent to “folks served by food banks and community clinics.” The coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color, and data compiled by Bloomberg show that White people are receiving the vaccine in greater numbers than minorities.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month that the administration was weighing whether to ship masks widely.

“It is an option under consideration,” she said on Feb. 12. “There are some underlying questions about how you target them -- the masks -- where they go to first; obviously, it couldn’t happen immediately.”

Communities of color and other marginalized groups have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic in the U.S., in contracting the virus, needing to go to the hospital, and dying. For example, Covid-19 death rates were twice as high for Black Americans as for White Americans last summer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Biden has made addressing those disparities a key part of his plan to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sanford said the masks will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for using cloth face masks.

The agency’s guidance says that Americans should wear tightly fitting masks that have multiple layers, which improve protection.

“The bottom line is this: Masks work and they work best when they have a good fit and are worn correctly,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Feb. 10.

(Updates with Biden quote, Psaki quote from second paragraph)

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