HHS program distributing face masks to Americans runs out, is ‘no longer accepting new requests’

An initiative by the federal government aimed at distributing reusable cotton face masks to various organizations, groups and businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus has run out of its supply amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in many areas across the U.S. 

Project: America Strong was created with the goal of “distributing reusable cotton face coverings to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organizations across the country to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” according to its U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) website.

But according to the website, it appears the initiative has run through its supply. The website featured a message on July 1 that read, “The demand for the face coverings has exceeded supply. As a result, we are no longer accepting new requests.” 

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Adding that face masks are currently more widely available from private vendors while also linking to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website containing instructions on how to make your own mask, HHS said, “We are currently assessing requests on hand and prioritizing delivery to support populations most susceptible to the disease.”

An HHS spokesperson confirmed that the agency is currently not taking any new requests for facial coverings and that the program was “part of a multi-prong approach to re-open American economic activity while continuing to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

FILE - FILE - Generic surgical mask photographed on the floor of a parking lot.

“Of the face coverings HHS ordered and distributed, approximately 38 percent were sent to state, tribal, territorial, and local to distribute as they deemed appropriate in their communities, approximately nine percent were sent to federal agencies for essential employees, and the remainder have been sent to the transportation sector, the healthcare sector (including long-term care facilities and dialysis centers) and other critical infrastructure sectors, as well as faith-based and volunteer organizations,” the spokesperson said. 

346 million face masks has been distributed thus far according to the spokesperson. 

 In early April, the CDC issued a recommendation that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures were difficult to maintain.

But President Donald Trump immediately undercut the CDC guidance by flatly stating that he wouldn’t be following it, suggesting it would be unseemly for the commander-in-chief to wear a mask as he meets with heads of state.

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While Trump has long resisted being photographed in a mask, many Republicans and members of the White House coronavirus task force in recent days have been more outspoken in advocating for Americans to wear face masks in public settings as infections have surged in huge swaths of the South and West.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, said last week that he would pursue a federal mask mandate, if elected.

But Trump continues to frame mask wearing as a matter of choice. “If people feel good about it, they should do it,” Trump said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.