White House scrapped plan to send masks to Wayne County and other COVID-19 hotspots to avoid creating a 'panic'


  • Shutterstock

At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., when metro Detroit was reeling from a surge of COVID-19 cases, federal health officials hatched a plan to send reusable masks to every home in Wayne County and three other hard-hit areas across the country.

The U.S. Postal Service drafted a press release saying it was “uniquely suited” to carry out the plan by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

But as the USPS prepared to send out the news release, the White House scrapped the plan, which would have sent the masks to every residential address in Wayne County, Orleans and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana, King County in Washington, and New York, according to records obtained by The Washington Post.

Instead, HHS launched a $675 million plan, Project Make America Strong, to distribute 650 million “reusable cotton face masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organizations across the country.”

The revelation drew harsh criticism Friday from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who said in a joint statement that the Trump administration failed to save "countless lives in the midst of our battle with this virus."

"This new revelation is just further proof that the president has failed to take this crisis seriously from the beginning, despite knowing how dangerous and deadly COVID-19 is," the governors said. "At a time when COVID-19 was ravaging our states and preying on our most vulnerable communities, especially seniors and people of color, the president had an opportunity to take quick, decisive action that could have saved thousands of lives, but chose not to. As we continue to face the biggest public health emergency of our lifetime, we may never know the number of lives that could have been saved if the national mask plan had touched every person in the country."

Asked about the scrapped mask plan, one administration official told The Washington Post, “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.”

Sound familiar? In his new book Rage, veteran journalist Bob Woodward writes that President Donald Trump knew COVID-19 was deadly but preferred “playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Whitmer and Inslee urged the Trump administration to develop a national strategy "so we can protect our families, our frontline workers, our educators, and our small businesses."

"It’s time for him to start treating this as the crisis he has known it to be from the very beginning," they said.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.