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and tried turning up the thermostat. “Even my dog, he was shaking in the house because he was so cold,” he said.

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he control room of the Texas electric grid is dominated by a Cineplex-sized screen along one wall. As outdoor temperatures plunged to arctic levels around the low-slung building 30 miles from Austin last Sunday night, all eyes were on it. The news wasn’t good.

Electric demand for heat across the state was soaring, as expected, but green dots on the corner state map started flipping to red. Each was a regional power generator, and they were spontaneously shutting down — three coal plants followed quickly by a gas plant in Corpus Christi.

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Then another metric began to flash: frequency, a measure of electricity flow on the grid. The 60 hertz needed for stability fell to 59.93.

Bill Magness, chief executive officer of the grid operator, was watching intently and understood instantly what was at stake. Below 59 and the state’s electrical system would face cascading blackouts that would take weeks or months to restore. In India in 2012, 700 million people were plunged into darkness in such a moment.

Key Speakers At The 2019 CERAWeek Conference
Magness
Photographer: Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg
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Texas was “seconds and minutes” from such a catastrophe, Magness recalled. It shouldn’t have been happening. After the winter blackouts of 2011, plants should have protected themselves against such low temperatures. The basis of the Texas system is the market — demand soars, you make money. Demand was soaring last Sunday, but the plants were shutting down.

If insufficient power came in, the grid wouldn’t be able to support the energy demand from customers and the other power plants that supply them, causing a cycle of dysfunction. So over the following hours, Magness ordered the largest forced power outage in U.S. history.

More than 2,000 miles away in San Juan, Puerto Rico, power trader Adam Sinn had been sitting at his computer watching the frequency chart plummet in real time. He knew the dip would be enough to start forcing power plants offline, potentially causing more widespread blackouts. It was an unprecedented situation but, from his perspective, entirely avoidable.

In fact, it was a crisis years in the making. Texas’s power grid is famously independent — and insular. Its self-contained grid is powered almost entirely in-state with limited import ability, thereby allowing the system to avoid federal oversight. It’s also an energy-only market, meaning the grid relies on price signals from extreme power prices to spur investments in new power plants, batteries and other supplies.

There is no way to contract power supply to meet the highest demand periods, something known as a capacity market on other grids. There are no mandates or penalties compelling generators to make supply available when it’s needed, or to cold-proof their equipment for storms like the one that slammed Texas last weekend.

So, as the cold began shutting in natural gas supplies, freezing instruments at power plants and icing over wind turbines, there wasn’t enough back-up generation available to meet demand. As many as 5 million homes and businesses were abruptly thrust into frigid darkness for nearly four straight days as the crisis continued, ensnaring more than a dozen other states as far as away as California and roiling commodity markets across the globe.

Now, as the snow across Texas melts and the lights come back on, answers remain hard to come by. What’s clear is that no one — neither the power plants that failed to cold-proof their equipment nor the grid operator charged with safeguarding the electric system — was prepared for such an extreme weather event. What happened in those two hours highlights just how vulnerable even the most sophisticated energy systems are to the vagaries of climate change, and how close it all came to crashing down.

Hour-by-Hour Texas Power Generation by Type

The warning signs started well before the cold set in. Nearly a week before the blackouts began, the operator of a wind farm in Texas alerted the grid manager, known as Ercot, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, that ice from the impending storm could force it offline, an early signal that capacity on the system would likely be compromised.

On Thursday, a natural gas trader trying to secure supplies for his company’s power plants for the holiday weekend was surprised to see prices surging. The reason? There were concerns that gas production in West Texas was at risk of freezing off, which would crimp supplies for power generation. And Sinn, the owner of Aspire Commodities, noticed from his computer in San Juan that day-ahead power prices on Texas’s grid were climbing, a sign that the market was anticipating scarcity.

By Saturday, a considerable amount of capacity was already offline, some of it for routine maintenance and some of it due to weather. This is because in Texas peak demand is associated with summer heat so many plants do routine maintenance in winter.

Wind was the first to go, as dense fog settled over turbine fleets, freezing on contact. The slow build-up of moisture over several days caused some of the blades to ice over, while connection lines began to droop under the weight of the ice until power production from some wind farms completely ceased. But because the resource makes up a minor share of Texas’s wintertime power mix, grid operators didn’t view it as a big problem. Then gas generation began declining. That was inconvenient, but not unmanageable. There was still plenty of supply on the system.

On Sunday, the mood in the control room grew tense. As the cold deepened, demand climbed sharply, hitting and then exceeding the state’s all-time winter peak. But the lights stayed on. Magness and his director of system operations, Dan Woodfin, watched the monitors from an adjoining room, satisfied that they had made it through the worst of the crisis.

“We thought maybe we are OK for the rest of the night,” Magness said.

They weren’t.

At 11 p.m., the green dots on the monitor overlooking the control room turned red. Across the state, power plant owners started seeing instruments on their lines freezing and causing their plants to go down. In some cases, well shut-ins in West Texas caused gas supplies to dip, reducing pressure at gas plants and forcing them offline. At that point, virtually all of the generation falling off the grid came from coal or gas plants.

“Contrary to some early hot takes, gas and coal were actually the biggest culprits in the crisis,” said Eric Fell, director of North America gas at Wood MacKenzie.

Back in Taylor, the town northeast of Austin, where Ercot is based, orange and red emergency displays began flashing on the giant flat-screens that lined the operators’ workstations.

“It happened very fast — there were several that went off in a row,” Magness said.

In the span of 30 minutes, 2.6 gigawatts of capacity had disappeared from Texas’s power grid, enough to power half a million homes.

“The key operators realized, this has got to stop. This isn’t allowed to happen,” said Magness.

By that point, the temperature outside had fallen to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 Celsius). Across the state, streets were icing over and snowbanks piling up. Demand kept climbing. And plants kept falling offline.

No one in the room had anticipated this. And it was about to get worse.

relates to The Two Hours That Nearly Destroyed Texas’s Electric Grid
The ERCOT control room in Austin.
Source: Courtesy of ERCOT
The generation outages were causing frequency to fall — as much as 0.5 hertz in a half-hour. “Then we started to see lots of generation come off,” Magness said.

To stem the plunge, operators would have to start “shedding load.” All at once, control room staff began calling transmission operators across the state, ordering them to start cutting power to their customers.

“As we shed load and the frequency continued to decline, we ordered another block of load shed and the frequency declined further, and we ordered another block of load shed,” said Woodfin, who slept in his office through the crisis.

Operators removed 10 gigawatts of demand from 1:30 a.m. until 2:30 a.m., essentially cutting power to 2 million homes in one fell swoop.

The utility that services San Antonio, CPS Energy, was one of those that got an order to cut power.

“We excluded anything critical, any circuit that had a hospital or police,” CPS chief executive Paula Gold-Williams said Friday. “We kept the airport up.”

Alton McCarver’s apartment in Austin was one of the homes that lost power. The IT worker woke shivering at 2:30 a.m., an hour after the blackouts began, and tried turning up the thermostat. “Even my dog, he was shaking in the house because he was so cold,” he said.

McCarver wanted to take his wife and 9-year-old daughter to shelter with a friend who still had power, but the steep hills around their home were coated in ice and he didn’t think they could make the drive safely. “You’re hungry, you’re frustrated, you’re definitely cold,” he said. “I was mostly worried about my family.”

The power cuts worked — at least in so far as Ercot managed to keep demand below rapidly falling supply.

Power Crunch
But the grid operator shed load so rapidly that some generators and market watchers have wondered whether they exacerbated the problem.

What’s more, frequency continued to fluctuate through the early hours of the morning, potentially causing even more power plants to trip, according to Ercot market participants. The Sandy Creek coal plant near Waco was one them, falling offline at 1:56 a.m. in tandem with the frequency dip, according to data from the plant operator.

Ercot, however, maintains that the frequency stayed above the level at which plants would trip.

And as blackouts spread across the state, power was cut not only to homes and businesses but to the compressor stations that power natural gas pipelines — further cutting off the flow of supplies to power plants.

Texas Residents Told to Boil Water, If They Have It
Power supplies became so scarce that what were supposed to be “rolling” blackouts ended up lasting for days at a time, leaving millions of Texans without lights, heat and, eventually without water. Even the Ercot control center lost water, and had to bring in portable toilets for its staff.

“It’s just catastrophic,” said Tony Clark, a former commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a senior adviser at law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP.

By Friday, when Ercot declared that the emergency had ended, 14.4 million still lacked reliable access to public water supplies, and the crisis had already cost the state $50 billion in damages, according to Accuweather. The cost of power on Monday alone was $10 billion, according to estimates from Wood Mackenzie. The Public Utility Commission of Texas announced an investigation into the factors that led to the blackouts.

But at least the lights were coming back on. In the afternoon, shell-shocked people trickled out of their homes to soak up the sun. “It feels crazy standing outside in the 40 degree sunlight,” said Cassie Moore, a 35-year-old writer and educator, who offered up her shower and washing machine to her boss and friends who were still without power or water. “In this same spot a few days ago I was worried that my dogs might freeze to death.”

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Trump and the extent to which, following Jan. 6, I don’t think he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”

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When the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — CPAC for short — kicks off Thursday in Orlando, Fla., it might as well be called TPAC.

That’s because this year, it is all about Trump.

The former president will headline the event with a Sunday afternoon keynote address, his first speech since leaving office last month.

It comes as the Republican Party is struggling with its identity after Donald Trump’s presidency. And yet CPAC, the largest gathering of conservative activists in the U.S., will still very much be a pro-Trump event.
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The conference, organized and sponsored by the American Conservative Union, will even keep alive Trump’s false claims of election fraud with several panels on the topic with names like “Other Culprits: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence,” “The Left Pulled the Strings, Covered It Up, and Even Admits It” and “Failed States (PA, GA, NV, oh my!).”

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“We’re going to spend a lot of time looking at what happened in these states,” Matt Schlapp, chairman of the ACU, said on CNN this week. Schlapp claimed to have “proof” of “widespread voter fraud in the last election,” yet presented none on air.

He went on to say that “Joe Biden is my president” and that “he won the election,” but then pivoted, raising suspicion: “That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t voter fraud and voter irregularity in the last election.”

Schlapp — a lobbyist and husband of Mercedes Schlapp, who worked in the Trump White House — is walking the same line other Republicans have been, between the truth and conspiracies that are popular with Trump and his base.

CPAC didn’t used to be so MAGA. In fact, Trump snubbed the conference in 2016 after a dispute over speech ground rules and wanting him to answer questions at the event.

Five years later, though, the political world — as well as the grassroots conservative movement — has changed substantially.

And, now, at this annual cattle call, there’s no penning Trump in.

Trump put the 2024 field on ice — and he likes it that way

In his speech, Trump is expected to draw distinctions with President Biden, particularly when it comes to immigration, which was an animating issue for the GOP base during Trump’s political tenure.

He is also expected to speak about the future of the Republican Party, and he very much wants to be seen as not just a player but the player — the “presumptive 2024 nominee,” in fact, as Axios reports.

Trump’s dangling of running again has effectively frozen the GOP field. CPAC has, for decades, been a place where presidential hopefuls have tested out their messages and possible depth of support.

A handful of would-be presidential hopefuls will be on hand this year, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as well as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

They are in an awkward holding pattern, but while ambitious potential candidates might want Trump out of the way, they want his voters even more.

That’s why people like former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, tried to meet with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home, to make sure they’re still on good terms.

But after Haley was critical of the former president in a recent profile, Trump reportedly turned down the meeting. As of Wednesday evening, Haley is not on the CPAC speakers list.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, seen here after arriving back in his hometown of Columbus, Ind., on Jan. 20, has declined an invitation to speak at CPAC.
Michael Conroy/AP
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who also very much has presidential ambitions, was targeted by the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Hang Mike Pence!” some chanted, as he presided over a usually ceremonial counting of the electoral votes.

Pence had to be escorted out of the Capitol for his safety, but even as the riot was unfolding, Trump lashed out at Pence on Twitter (where Trump is now banned). He said Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done” to overturn the election results — something Pence had no real power to do.

Still, despite reported tension between the two following Jan. 6, Pence told former congressional colleagues this week that he and Trump maintain a good relationship. He told them he’s forming a political organization that will defend the work of their administration.

But Pence declined an invitation to speak at CPAC.

Trump’s lofty status and an event that has changed — a lot

CPAC has taken on many different forms over the years.

To show just how much it has changed recently, consider that in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, was the crowd favorite, winning the conference’s straw poll each of those four years.

But the now-Utah senator — who has been a vocal Trump critic and voted for Trump’s conviction on impeachment charges twice — is persona non grata at this Trumpy variation of CPAC.

There was also a strong libertarian strain, particularly among young attendees. Either former Texas Rep. Ron Paul or his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, were the picks of the CPAC crowd in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. But that is all but gone. Rand Paul declined an invitation to this year’s conference, as he has in recent years.

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That Trump retains in this lofty perch within the Republican Party is somewhat remarkable. When he came into office, the party controlled all the levers of power in Washington — the House, the Senate and, with his election, the White House.

Now, it controls none.

Part of how Trump has retained his hold on the rank and file is by convincing tens of millions of them that the election was stolen from him.

Trump went on a months-long disinformation campaign discrediting Biden’s victory. His inaccurate fraud claims and conspiracy theories were disproved by dozens of courts, but the depth of support for his false grievance was made plain by the thousands of his flag-waving supporters who participated in the Jan. 6 violence.

There was no peaceful transfer of power, and Trump has yet to acknowledge that he lost fair and square. For months, Trump was also enabled by elected Republican leaders who knew better and later acknowledged that Biden won legitimately.

That includes Republican leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. They seemed to be hoping that if they gave Trump room to protest the election results through the courts, then he would come around once there were rulings.

That never happened. Instead, Trump dug in, abetted by conservative media, which amplified and gave traction to his false claims.

After Jan. 6, McConnell publicly rebuked Trump, blaming him for the riot. That landed McConnell in a very public feud with the most popular person in his party.

McCarthy — who has done head-snapping reversals over the years when it comes to Trump — first went McConnell’s path, saying Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol violence. But he quickly reversed course, making up with Trump in a fence-mending trip to Mar-a-Lago.

On Wednesday, McCarthy was asked if he believes Trump should be speaking at CPAC. “Yes, he should,” McCarthy said during a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — who is in House GOP leadership but voted for Trump’s impeachment — was then asked for her view.

“That’s up to CPAC,” Cheney said. “I’ve been clear in my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following Jan. 6, I don’t think he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”

“On that high note, thank you all very much,” McCarthy said to laughs, as he walked off.

McCarthy participates in a panel Saturday afternoon at CPAC on “Winning Back America.” Neither McConnell nor Cheney will be appearing.

CPAC has also shown a willingness to exclude not just those who don’t line up with Trump but also some with odious and controversial views.

It’s ironic, considering this year’s CPAC theme is “America Uncanceled,” but after a left-leaning watchdog group found that one listed speaker had made anti-Semitic comments, he was disinvited.

The speaker was offended and accused CPAC of the same thing conservatives often say of Big Tech companies and universities.

“I feel like I’m being silenced,” he said. “I feel like my rights are being violated. Basically I’m being censored.”

Conservatives have complained that social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, are biased because they have banned or removed content.

Posts have been removed because the sites determined they were false or misleading or promoted conspiracies that could lead to violence — the kind of conspiracies that went mainstream during Trump’s presidency and led to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

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Prevention guidelines and “certainly they meet those requirements set by our federal standard,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

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The Biden administration is planning to distribute millions of free face masks across the country to organizations serving people with low incomes, in a fresh effort to tamp down Covid-19 spread within vulnerable populations.

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The federal government will soon begin sending more than 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens, the administration said on Wednesday, with the goal of reaching as many as 15 million people with low incomes beginning in March and continuing through May.
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“It allows people who are not able to in some situations find or afford a mask, to get a mask, and is part of our equity strategy,” White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said, estimating the cost of supplying the masks at about $86 million.
President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus beginning next month 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.

The White House is not distributing safer N95 masks, of which the U.S. now has abundant supply after shortages early in the pandemic.

Youtube video thumbnail
The cloth masks adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “certainly they meet those requirements set by our federal standard,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

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.”

Biden has asked all Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term, pointing to models showing it could help save 50,000 lives. He also required mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public transportation in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

In late January, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 75% of Americans said they wear a mask all the time when they go out in public and are around others, and an additional 12% said they wear a mask most of the time.

Biden has made a virtue of his public displays of mask-wearing, drawing direct contrast with Trump, who only rarely was seen covering his face while president. Biden has also required the use of masks around the White House, unlike Trump, whose White House was the scene of at least three outbreaks of the virus.

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.

Associated Press writer Hannah Fingurhut contributed to this report.
Why it matters: The initiative comes nearly a year after Trump administration health officials first internally explored whether to send masks to every American in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread — an idea that was rejected at the time.

Public health experts have since pushed for reviving the concept as a way of reaching underserved communities and emphasizing the importance of mask wearing. Those advocates included members of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, who had sketched out rough plans for what masks the government should send and how it should deliver them to the entire U.S. population, according to a person familiar with the conversations.

Zients on Wednesday said such a sweeping initiative would have been a “good idea” months ago, but he noted that masks are now widely available for most people.

The administration’s initiative will be more limited by comparison, with plans to distribute the cloth masks among roughly 1,300 health centers and 300 food banks. About two-thirds of people served by community health centers are living in poverty, the administration said.

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communities and emphasizing the importance of mask wearing. Those advocates included members of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19

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The Biden administration is planning to distribute millions of free face masks across the country to organizations serving people with low incomes, in a fresh effort to tamp down Covid-19 spread within vulnerable populations.

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The federal government will soon begin sending more than 25 million masks to community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens, the administration said on Wednesday, with the goal of reaching as many as 15 million people with low incomes beginning in March and continuing through May.
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“It allows people who are not able to in some situations find or afford a mask, to get a mask, and is part of our equity strategy,” White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said, estimating the cost of supplying the masks at about $86 million.
President Joe Biden plans to distribute millions of face masks to Americans in communities hard-hit by the coronavirus beginning next month 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.

The White House is not distributing safer N95 masks, of which the U.S. now has abundant supply after shortages early in the pandemic.

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The cloth masks adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “certainly they meet those requirements set by our federal standard,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

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.”

Biden has asked all Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his term, pointing to models showing it could help save 50,000 lives. He also required mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public transportation in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

In late January, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 75% of Americans said they wear a mask all the time when they go out in public and are around others, and an additional 12% said they wear a mask most of the time.

Biden has made a virtue of his public displays of mask-wearing, drawing direct contrast with Trump, who only rarely was seen covering his face while president. Biden has also required the use of masks around the White House, unlike Trump, whose White House was the scene of at least three outbreaks of the virus.

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.

Associated Press writer Hannah Fingurhut contributed to this report.
Why it matters: The initiative comes nearly a year after Trump administration health officials first internally explored whether to send masks to every American in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread — an idea that was rejected at the time.

Public health experts have since pushed for reviving the concept as a way of reaching underserved communities and emphasizing the importance of mask wearing. Those advocates included members of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, who had sketched out rough plans for what masks the government should send and how it should deliver them to the entire U.S. population, according to a person familiar with the conversations.

Zients on Wednesday said such a sweeping initiative would have been a “good idea” months ago, but he noted that masks are now widely available for most people.

The administration’s initiative will be more limited by comparison, with plans to distribute the cloth masks among roughly 1,300 health centers and 300 food banks. About two-thirds of people served by community health centers are living in poverty, the administration said.

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