October 2, 2020
Zachary Boudah | MediaWise Teen Fact-Checker

MediaWise Rating: LEGIT

On Sep. 17, verified twitter user Don Moynihan claimed that the White House blocked a plan that would have sent five reusable face masks to every household in early April. Paired with this claim was an accusation that the plan was blocked over fears that the masks would spark panic. Is this story legit?

Start by looking into who shared the information:

Don Moynihan is a public policy expert who is currently a professor at Georgetown University. He previously served as the director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post and others. 

Look for evidence:

In the tweet, Moynihan cites a Washington Post article that details major complications within the USPS, as a lack of funding, safety, and support has left the agency stranded. The article is written on the back of 10,000 pages of newly disclosed documents obtained by The Washington Post from American Oversight. The compilation of memos, emails, and presentations was acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

One of these documents, which Moynihan included in his tweet, is a draft of a press release from the USPS, meant to come out sometime in April. The release was meant to inform Americans that the USPS, in partnership with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, was going to ship out 650 million reusable face masks to “every residential delivery” in the country. The release also states the first shipments would be sent in April.

The press release contains quotes from then Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, who stated: “Our organization is uniquely suited to undertake this historic mission of delivering face coverings to every American household in the fight against the COVID-19 virus.”

What are other sources saying?

Other reports of a pandemic response like this were also published in April, but none were as detailed. According to Axios, the plan to mail out millions of cloth face masks hit a roadblock due to heavy skepticism from administration officials over the execution of the plan. However, an unnamed former senior Health and Human Services official explained it is absolutely doable. A similar strategy was attempted (and successfully completed by Japan, according to a New York Times article).

It is clear there was an initial plan in place, created by the White House and USPS, to deliver face coverings to fight the pandemic early on. So, what went wrong?

Did the White House block It?

What we know about the March-April pandemic response can be summed up like this: The federal government was aware of the dangers of the virus and how to potentially respond to them, and the president was hesitant because he feared a public panic. This has been confirmed by excerpts from journalist Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage,” in which the president acknowledged the virus was “deadly stuff” and that it could kill thousands. Later, President Trump admitted he “wanted to always play it down” because he “(doesn’t) want to create a panic”.

Furthermore, the executive director of American Oversight, Austin Evers, claims Trump’s influence would’ve played an undeniable role in preventing a massive response like the one detailed above.

All things considered, the reports of the White House scrapping the idea are backed up thoroughly by evidence uncovered this September.

Our rating

LEGIT. The only thing about Moynihan’s claim that is incorrect is the typo “facemarks.” It is terrifyingly clear that the federal government had a plan to ship face masks to every household in the U.S to battle a pandemic that would eventually kill more than 200,000 people. But cautious optimism caused the plan to be sidelined. For better or worse, this claim is legit.

Sources:

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.

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