President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus, as part of his efforts to ensure "equity" in the government's response to the pandemic.
Biden, who like Donald Trump's administration considered sending masks to all Americans, is instead adopting a more conservative approach, aiming to reach underserved communities and those bearing the brunt of the outbreak. Trump's administration shelved the plans entirely.
Biden's plan will distribute masks not through the mail, but instead through Federally Qualified Community Health Centers and the nation's food bank and food pantry systems, the White House announced Wednesday.
The Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture will be involved in the distribution of more than 25 million American-made cloth masks in both adult and kid sizes. The White House estimates they will reach 12 million to 15 million people.
"Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly, not all have access, and not all masks are equal," said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients.
Biden hinted at the move Tuesday during a virtual roundtable discussion Tuesday with four essential workers who are Black, saying he expected his administration to send millions of masks to people around the country "very shortly."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested earlier this month that logistical concerns underpinned the decision to scale back the plans to send masks to all Americans.
"I think there are some underlying questions about how you target them — the masks — where they go to first; obviously, it couldn't happen immediately," she said.
Biden has asked everyone to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term. He also required mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public transportation.