Thursday, April 9, 2020

Federal Medical Stockpile Is Running Out

From the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in the United States, a buzzword has been “flatten the curve.” With no treatment and no vaccine, the plan was to slow the rate of infection to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with cases of COVID-19. The wisdom of that strategy is now being illustrated by the fact that the strategic federal reserve of medical supplies is dwindling after an outbreak that is only six weeks old.
Axios reports that 90 percent of the federal stockpile will be deployed to the states while 10 percent will be held in reserve “for critical needs of frontline healthcare workers serving in federal response efforts” per Health and Human Services spokesman Katie McKeogh. The government has already shipped out more than 11 million N95 masks and 7,000 ventilators, but the remaining contents of the stockpile is not enough to meet current requests from the states, many of which are expecting surges in hospital demand in coming weeks.
“The stockpile was designed to respond to a handful of cities. It was never built or designed to fight a 50-state pandemic,” an anonymous Homeland Security official told the Washington Post last week. “This is not only a U.S. government problem. The supply chain for PPE worldwide has broken down, and there is a lot of price-gouging happening.”
The government is attempting to refill the stockpile with items produced under the Defense Production Act. President Trump invoked the Act back on March 18 but the first contracts for ventilators were only signed yesterday. Phillips will produce 2,500 ventilators by the end of May and 43,000 by the end of the year while GM will deliver 6,132 ventilators by June 1 and 30,000 by the end of August.  The Trump Adminstration canceled a pending ventilator contract with GM back on March 26 citing cost concerns.
The stockpile shortage may also play into reports that the federal government is seizing medical supplies from hospitals and state agencies. The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that hospitals in seven states reported that FEMA had commandeered shipments of medical supplies that they had ordered. Spokesmen for the hospitals said that the government had not given them any guidance about how to access the supplies that they had requested and there was no information about how the government intended to distribute the seized shipments. Presumably, the supplies are being fed into the national stockpile but that has not been confirmed.
President Trump has attempted to shift the blame for the partially empty medical stockpile on Barack Obama, but the problem goes even deeper. An analysis by Hot Air found that Presidents Obama and George W. Bush had both used stockpiled supplies without replenishing them. President Trump also neglected to restock the cache in his first three years. It was a failure of both parties that, in a time of record-breaking federal spending, no one thought to refill the emergency medical stockpile.
While troubling, the situation could be much worse if social distancing steps had not been implemented when they were. If the exponential growth in COVID-19 cases had continued, the situation would be even more dire. By flattening the curve, we have more time to prepare for a possible onslaught of new cases. If the critics of the economic pause and self-isolation had their way, there would be many more cases in the near term with a corresponding shortage of supplies that would dramatically increase the ultimate death toll.

Originally published on The Resurgent

No comments: