FEMA tells House panel national supply of ventilators running low

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The federal government has fewer than 10,000 ventilators in its emergency stockpile and demand will soon exceed capacity, federal officials told a House committee.

In a report released Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee said officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told them this week that only 9,500 ventilators are in the national stockpile, and only an additional 3,200 will arrive by April 13.

President Trump recently promised that the U.S. would manufacture or procure an additional 100,000 ventilators, but the bulk of those will not be available until late June at the earliest, the report said.

In an April 1 briefing with the top Democrats and Republicans on several committees, FEMA conceded that the demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the Strategic National Stockpile and those provided by the Department of Defense, according to the report. Officials with FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also held a briefing for Oversight and Reform Committee members on March 30.

The U.S. Strategic National Stockpile aims to provide medical supplies during emergencies so severe they cause shortages. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the federal government to deplete much of its reserves as states and hospitals nationwide struggle with a surge of critical patients.

Governors have been pleading with the Trump administration for help, and have continually said that they are not receiving nearly enough supplies from the stockpile to address the surge in hospitalizations.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Thursday said the state will exhaust its stockpile of ventilators in six days. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has also warned his state could run out of ventilators as soon as this week, even with a shipment of an additional 150 from the federal government.

“Unfortunately, President Trump spent months downplaying the coronavirus crisis and wasting precious time as thousands of Americans tested positive, got sick and died,” Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. 

“Rather than casting doubt on the gravity of this pandemic, the administration should have been working around the clock to prepare and execute plans to obtain desperately needed personal protective equipment and medical supplies.”

Trump has at times questioned whether states really need as many ventilators as they say, and has lashed out at anyone who suggests his administration has not responded appropriately. 

On Thursday, he tweeted that some states had shown an “insatiable appetite” for equipment they don’t necessarily need.

According to the report, the documents from FEMA show that as of March 30, the agency had supplied “only a fraction” of the equipment requested in Region III, which includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Collectively, the states and D.C. asked the government for 5.2 million N95 respirator masks, but received less than 10 percent of their requests.

They received less than 1 percent of their request for 194 million pairs of gloves, and they received none of the 15,000 body bags they requested. 

Maloney said officials from FEMA and HHS knew in mid-January that the country would not have enough N95 masks to respond to an infectious disease outbreak. 

She said agency 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.

“The President must act immediately to take all steps within his authority to get personal protective equipment and medical supplies to our nation’s frontline responders who are risking everything to save their fellow Americans,” Maloney said.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Carolyn Maloney Coronavirus Donald Trump

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