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The Strategic National Stockpile says its supply of N95 respirator masks, surgical masks, face shields, gowns and other medical supplies needed for front-line workers to fight the coronavirus pandemic across the country is nearly depleted.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told The Associated Press Wednesday that the federal stockpile was in the process of distributing all remaining personal protective equipment in its inventory to state and local governments which will, in turn, pass it down to health care and essential workers who need it. HHS said it will keep a small portion in reserve to support federal response efforts.
House Oversight Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., slammed President Trump’s delayed response to the virus, which he initially denied was a threat to the public’s health and purported was a hoax perpetrated by Democrats and the media until late February.
Maloney said Trump’s efforts to downplay the virus forced the states and federal agencies to clamor for scarce supplies at higher prices due to bidding wars induced by the crisis.
“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.”
President Trump has defended his administration’s response, from barring non-citizens arriving on flights from China in January to the numerous actions taken by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Trump has also blamed the states for their lack of preparation for the outbreak — which has resulted in 13,929 deaths and 40,352 cases to date across the country — and has said the states should only be relying on the federal stockpile as a last resort.
However, initial test kits that were produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February to detect the virus turned out to be faulty. Trump waited until mid-March to place bulk orders of N95 masks and other medical supplies needed to build up the stockpile, even though the administration had been internally warned of the possibility of a devastating pandemic in January, according to Fox News’ reporting and reports by The Associated Press.
Federal contracting records show HHS made a $4.8 million order of N95 masks on March 12, followed by a $173 million order on March 21, but those contracts don’t require the manufacturer to start making deliveries to the national stockpile until the end of April, after the White House has projected the pandemic will reach its peak.
In addition, the president only mandated an increased production of respirators and ventilators as of last week, despite prodding from lawmakers to enact the Defense Production Act sooner.
Still, Trump has touted the federal aid to states, calling it a “miracle.”
“FEMA, the military, what they’ve done is a miracle,” he said. “What they’ve done is a miracle in getting all of this stuff. What they have done for states is incredible.”
Fox News’ Eric Shawn andThe Associated Press contributed to this report.