The U.S. waited until March to place bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, ventilators, and other medical supplies even as the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak ballooned into a pandemic, the Associated Press reported Monday.
When hospitals in Washington State began to see a rise in coronavirus patients in February, the federal government was forced to send medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile, which was created 20 years ago to prepare for a national emergency. In one case, Montgomery County in Alabama received 5,000 masks that had a 2010 expiration date and were unusable due to dry rot.
The outbreak in China led President Trump on January 31 to declare a public-health emergency and place travel restrictions on foreigners entering from China. However, no federal agencies placed orders for additional medical supplies. On February 7, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. had airlifted 18 tons of medical supplies to China to help the country fight the outbreak.
Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to compel various companies to produce medical supplies, after initially attempting to secure contracts without using the legislation. The president ordered General Motors to begin producing ventilators after saying the company was “wasting time” in the contract negotiation process, and has criticized manufacturer 3M for initially refusing to redirect masks produced in Singapore to the U.S.
Meanwhile, U.S. states struggle to keep medical supplies in stock. New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that he would sign an executive order allowing state agencies to seize any medical equipment from anywhere in the state deemed necessary to treat coronavirus patients, and to ship that equipment to coronavirus hotspots.