Responding to an urgent March 14 appeal from the National Security Council, Taiwan sent the United States hundreds of thousands of masks — 3,600 of which were specially earmarked for White House staff and officials. At the same time they were privately scrambling to procure these masks, the Trump administration was publicly downplaying the need for Americans to wear the protective gear themselves to stem off the spread of the coronavirus.
According to the Washington Post, the White House requested masks from Taiwan because the U.S. was experiencing a shortage of protective gear. This prompted NSC leaders to be concerned about the safety of their personnel who cannot work remotely because their work requires using secure systems within the White House and the Situation Room.
Strikingly, the receipt of the masks for White House staff coincided with a completely opposite message coming from Trump’s administration around the same time. According to the Post, while a top NSC deputy was “convinced” that both his team and the public at large needed to be wearing face coverings, the president was talking about how the coronavirus could just “disappear” and said, during an April 3 coronavirus briefing, that he would not wear a mask.
Additionally, Surgeon General Jerome Adams was strongly advising Americans not to buy masks.
“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” Adams tweeted on February 29.
The White House pushed back on the report, saying that they leaned on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One administration official told the Post, “It was not CDC guidance for all staff to have them, so in the same way you couldn’t request a test if you were asymptomatic and had no cause for concern, we weren’t giving masks from our stockpiles at that time.” If wearing masks became mandatory, the source said, “We would have enough for staff still in the building to protect them.”
If nothing else, this report tacks onto the ever-growing list of worrisome ways this administration has conducted itself during the crisis. It comes from people who work in the White House itself and makes it clear that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, thinking or concerned about — so much so that they are willing to take action independently to save themselves.