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  • Writer's pictureMichael McAuliff

FEMA Admits Drastic Coronavirus Shortfalls

An alarming report released by the House Oversight Committee Thursday reveals numerous looming gaps in the nation's ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including very little ability to produce the needed medical supplies, including protective gear and ventilators.

The information comes from briefings for the committee on March 30 and April 1, from FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services. The April 1 briefing included the chairs and and top Republicans of Oversight and other committees that authorize and appropriate funding.

Here are the key findings, verbatim from the report:

Critical Shortage of Ventilators Expected to Worsen. Although President Trump asserted this week that coronavirus cases may peak “around Easter," FEMA officials informed the Committee on March 30 that there are only about 9,500 ventilators remaining in the Strategic National Stockpile and that by the week of April 13, the Supply Chain Task Force will have acquired only about 3,200 more. FEMA reported that most of the 100,000 ventilators promised by President Trump will not be available until late June at the earliest. Demand for Ventilators Outstrips Capacity. On April 1, FEMA conceded that, based on current projections, the demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the Strategic National Stockpile and those provided by the Department of Defense. FEMA’s Administrator has directed that ventilators be treated as a “strategic national asset” and released to states only after they answer a “tough series of questions” designed to identify an “exigent need” to sustain life “within 72 hours.” Trump Administration Asks Doctors and Nurses to Re-Use Personal Protective Equipment, Despite Risks. On April 1, when asked about urgent shortages in personal protective equipment, FEMA recommended that medical professionals preserve, optimize, and re-use personal protective equipment. The briefer acknowledged that reusing this equipment increases the risk that health care providers will be infected with coronavirus, but asserted that this step is “critical” given current shortages. Likely Shortages Were Known Months Ago, But Procurement Efforts Still Delayed. On March 30, HHS admitted that the Department knew as early as mid-January based on 2015 models that the United States would not have enough N95 respirator masks to respond to an infectious disease outbreak. HHS and FEMA officials were not able to provide specific timelines about when additional equipment and supplies would be procured by the federal government and made available to states. FEMA Refuses to Take More Active Role in Supplying Critical Supplies. On April 1, FEMA officials conceded that although domestic manufacturers are ramping up production of personal protective equipment, “those pieces are not moving fast enough for any of us.” FEMA said its efforts to procure masks on the open market were akin to “chasing rabbits in an open field,” because many domestic suppliers are not able to locate available supplies. Yet FEMA pushed back on suggestions that the Administration should take a more active role in procurement, saying that FEMA “attempting to replace private sector supply chains does not work” and that the agency is instead helping the private sector supply chain “adapt.”

The report, really more of a summary, also documents severe equipment shortages for the Mid-Atlantic region, including requesting 5.2 million N-95 respirator masks, but getting only 445,000 -- less than 10%; seeking 194 million pairs of gloves, and getting less than 1% with just 991,000; and, grimly, requesting 15,000 body bags, but getting none.

“The new documents we are releasing today confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals for weeks—they do not have enough personal protective equipment and medical supplies, and the administration has provided only a tiny fraction of what they desperately need," said Oversight Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

The committee provided specific data for Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.


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