The federal government’s stockpile of desperately needed personal protective equipment is almost completely depleted as the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify in the United States.
About 90 percent of the gear — N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, gowns and gloves — in the Strategic National Stockpile has been shipped out to states fighting the coronavirus pandemic, according to documents released by the House Oversight Committee Wednesday.
The remaining 10 percent of the equipment will be saved for federal response work, a spokesperson at the Department of Health and Human Services said.
Even with tapped out resources, states are receiving only a small portion of equipment local health officials have said are needed.
The federal government has shipped out 7,920 ventilators — including 2,000 to New York City, the country’s COVID-19 epicenter — and another 11.7 million respirator masks.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pleaded for 30,000 ventilators in New York, for example, while federal officials have estimated that 3.5 billion masks would be needed to combat the pandemic.
“Now that the national stockpile has been depleted of critical equipment, it appears that the Administration is leaving states to fend for themselves, to scour the open market for these scarce supplies, and to compete with each other and federal agencies in a chaotic, free-for-all bidding war,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), the chairwoman of the committee, in a statement.
President Trump during a Monday news briefing said his administration still has about 9,000 ventilators on hand, but largely inherited a stockpile with “empty cupboards.”
“We took over a stockpile where the cupboard was bare and where the testing system was broken and old. And we redid it,” he said.
With the outbreak expected to be nearing its peak, Admiraal Brett Giroir, a medical doctor and White House coronavirus taskforce member, assured that “every person who needs a ventilator will get a ventilator” at the briefing.
“Now you’re seeing…out of the appropriate American spirit that when a state like Washington or California doesn’t need that ventilator, they’re doing the right thing by moving them around the country,” Giroir said.
The federal government, meanwhile, is making moves to replenish its supplies.
HHS made its initial bulk order of N95 masks on March 12, followed by larger orders on March 21 — but deliveries won’t reach the national stockpile until the end of April, according to federal contracting records.
As the stockpile dwindled, Trump began pressing the private industry to ramp up production of badly needed supplies under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act.
“By rating contracts under the DPA, HHS is helping manufacturers like GM get the supplies they need to produce ventilators as quickly as possible, while also ensuring that these ventilators are routed through the Strategic National Stockpile to where they’re needed most,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
With Post wires
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