by Debra Heine
The shortage of N95 respirator masks in America today is the result of the Obama-Biden Administration’s failure to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile after the H1N1 swine flu pandemic depleted supplies, according to multiple reports.
The H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 led to 274,304 hospitalizations, 12,469 deaths, and a severe shortage of masks of N95 respirator masks in the United States.
According to Bloomberg News, the national stockpile—which is governed by the Health and Human Services Department—”distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”
The stockpile was depleted of about 100 million masks during the swine flu epidemic, Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Assn. told the LA Times.
Johnson’s association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended to the Obama administration that the stockpile be replenished, according to the Times.
Johnson said that advice was never heeded. “Our association is unaware of any major effort to restore the stockpile to cover that drawdown,” he said.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar revealed last month that only 12 million N95 masks were available in the stockpile, “a tiny fraction of the 3.5 billion masks one of Azar’s deputies later testified the nation’s healthcare system would need,” according to the Times.
The Trump administration authorized the Defense Department to provide 5 million N95 masks and 2,000 ventilators to help bridge the gap. The president has also asked construction companies to “donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital and forgo additional orders of those industrial masks,” but thus far has resisted pressure to invoke the Defense Production Act to order private companies to ramp up production of the masks.
President Trump said Sunday that he gave the green light for Ford, General Motors and Tesla to manufacture ventilators and other items to treat COVID-19, but some state and local officials say the administration isn’t moving aggressively enough to get medical supplies delivered.
The president urged auto executives to “go for it” in the race to build ventilators and other medical supplies for intensive care units, but he said he has resisted using the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that empowers the president to compel production, because it would smack of “nationalization” and is not necessary at this time.
“We have tremendous numbers of companies making equipment,” Mr. Trump said at the White House.
Also helping out is the National COVID-19 Medical Equipment Clearinghouse, aka Project N95 which has been launched to serve “the many hospitals and healthcare systems, including nursing homes, and other care facilities, in need of personal protective equipment (PPE).”
Rapid response teams have been coordinating with manufacturers globally with the capacity to produce. Within weeks, millions of units of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be available for distribution.
Additionally, Trump signed an executive order Monday to combat price gouging and hoarding of crucial items like masks and ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This sends a strong message – we will not let those hoarding vital supplies & price gougers to harm the health of America in this hour of need,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
President @realDonaldTrump just signed an EO to prevent hoarding & price gouging of supplies needed in our war against the #Coronavirus. This sends a strong message – we will not let those hoarding vital supplies & price gougers to harm the health of America in this hour of need. pic.twitter.com/eksxQOVKNM
— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) March 23, 2020
Although the Trump administration is scrambling to replenish supplies depleted during the Obama administration, FEMA Director Pete Gaynor on Sunday came under withering attack for being unable to answer questions about when resupplies would be available to health-care workers.
“FEMA head can’t give even rough number of masks going to hospitals as doctors say they don’t have enough supplies,” CNN scolded.
The Trump Campaign, meanwhile hit 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s own record of failure on public health.
“The Obama-Biden Administration failed to replenish the federal stockpile of N95 respirator masks after the swine flu pandemic, despite recommendations that it do so,” the campaign said in a press release. “The shortage America is experiencing today is a direct result of the Obama-Biden Administration’s failure to prepare the country.”
Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reported 43,214 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Monday evening.
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Debra Heine is a regular contributor to American Greatness.