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Health Care

HHS: 90 Percent of Federal PPE Stockpile Depleted amid Coronavirus Pandemic

A worker manages a shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Bari, Italy, April 7, 2020. (Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters)

The Department of Health and Human Services revealed Wednesday that the nation’s federal stockpile was deploying nearly all of its remaining personal protective equipment (PPE), confirming a Congressional report showing that approximately 90 percent of the PPE stockpile has already been distributed to state and local governments to fight coronavirus.

HHS spokeswoman Katie McKeogh told The Associated Press that the stockpile’s remaining 10 percent would be saved for federal response efforts. At the outset of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, the federal stockpile had about 13 million N95 masks, with 11.7 million distributed so far — much less than the initial estimated demand.

Records show HHS ordered more masks on March 12, with additional larger orders on March 21. But those will not be delivered until the end of the month despite projections that the pandemic could peak before that date.

Even after President Trump declared a public-health emergency on January 31, federal agencies dragged their feet and did not immediately place orders for additional medical supplies.

House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.), whose committee released documents showing the extent of the shortage, blasted the president over the shortage.

“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,” Maloney said. “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.”

President Trump has defended his administration’s handling of the outbreak as effective considering the pandemic response apparatus he inherited. Multiple reports have laid out how the Obama administration failed to replenish the stockpile’s masks. A 2017 study found that “75 percent of N95 respirators and 25 percent of face masks contained in the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (∼100 million products) were deployed for use in health care settings over the course of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response,” and ProPublica reported earlier this month how HHS decreased its stockpile funding requests after Obama-era officials elected to not prioritize the purchase of additional PPE.

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