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Stocks of Protective Equipment Low     04/09 06:11

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Strategic National Stockpile is nearly out of the N95 
respirators, surgical masks, face, shields, gowns and other medical supplies 
desperately needed to protect front-line medical workers treating coronavirus 
patients.

   The Department of Health and Human Services told the Associated Press 
Wednesday that the federal stockpile was in the process of deploying all 
remaining personal protective equipment in its inventory.

   The HHS statement confirms federal documents released Wednesday by the House 
Oversight and Reform Committee showing that about 90% of the personal 
protective equipment in the stockpile has been distributed to state and local 
governments.

   HHS spokeswoman Katie McKeogh said the remaining 10% will be kept in reserve 
to support federal response efforts.

   House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement 
that the Trump administration is leaving states to scour the open market for 
scarce supplies, often competing with each other and federal agencies in a 
chaotic bidding war that drives up prices.

   "The President failed to bring in FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management 
Agency) early on, failed to name a national commander for this crisis, and 
failed to fully utilize the authorities Congress gave him under the Defense 
Production Act to procure and manage the distribution of critical supplies," 
Maloney said. "He must take action now to address these deficiencies."

   For the last month, health care workers across the nation have taken to 
social media to illustrate the shortages by taking selfies wearing home-sewn 
masks on their faces and trash bags over their scrubs.

   President Donald Trump has faulted the states for not better preparing for 
the pandemic and has said they should only being relying on the federal 
stockpile as a last resort.

   The AP reported Sunday that the Trump administration squandered nearly two 
months after the early January warnings that COVID-19 might ignite a global 
pandemic, waiting until mid-March to place bulk orders of N95 masks and other 
medical supplies needed to build up the stockpile. By then, hospitals in 
several states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate 
equipment and were pleading for help.

   Trump spent the first two months of the outbreak playing down the threat 
from the new virus. He derided warnings of a pandemic as a hoax perpetrated by 
Democrats and the media, predicting as late as Feb. 26 that the number of U.S. 
cases would soon drop to zero.

   The stockpile was created in 1999 to prevent supply-chain disruptions for 
the predicted Y2K computer problems. It expanded after 9/11 to prepare for 
chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. Congress provided money 
in 2006 to prepare for a potential influenza pandemic, though much of that 
stock was used during the H1N1 flu outbreak three years later.

   At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the federal stockpile had about 13 
million N95 respirators, masks which filter out about 95% of all liquid or 
airborne particles and are critical to prevent health care workers from 
becoming infected. That's just a small fraction of what hospitals need to 
protect their workers, who normally would wear a new mask for each patient, but 
who now are often issued only one to last for days.

   Federal contracting records show HHS made an initial bulk order of N95 masks 
on March 12, followed by larger orders on March 21. But those contracts won't 
yield big deliveries to the national stockpile until the end of April, after 
the White House has projected the pandemic will reach its peak.

   For nearly a month, Trump rebuffed calls to use his authority under the 
Defense Production Act to order companies to increase production of respirators 
and ventilators, before he relented last week.

   Asked about the AP report, the president suggested Sunday the states should 
be thankful for the shipments of supplies they have gotten.

   "FEMA, the military, what they've done is a miracle," Trump said. "What 
they've done is a miracle in getting all of this stuff. What they have done for 
states is incredible."


(KR)

 
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