Trump invokes Defense Production Act as coronavirus response

President Trump announced Wednesday that he will invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA), which would allow the administration to force American industry to manufacture medical supplies that are in short supply in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

Hospitals, health workers and state and local officials have said they are quickly running out of personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks, gowns and gloves, that are crucial to keeping doctors and nurses on the front lines of the pandemic safe.

“There’s never been an instance like this where no matter what you have it’s not enough,” Trump said at a White House briefing with reporters. 

“If we need to use it, we’ll be using it at full speed ahead,” he said.

Hospitals are also sounding the alarm on the lack of ventilators, or breathing machines, that are expected to be in high demand as the coronavirus spreads in the coming weeks and months. 

Democrats in Congress, hearing about shortages of supplies from hospitals in their states and districts, have urged Trump to invoke the DPA to direct the domestic production of necessary medical equipment. 

“This would ensure we have the materials we need at the ready, rather than wait for disruptions in the global supply chain to subside,” 57 House Democrats wrote in a letter to Trump last week. 

The issue of supply shortages is likely to come up during the president’s discussions with nurses and doctors Wednesday. 

Supply chains are extremely strained due to tariffs on China, the main supplier of medical goods to the U.S.

While the Trump administration has recently taken some action to ease those tariffs, China and other countries are also blocking exports of those products as they seek to combat the pandemic within their borders. 

Of top concern to health workers in the U.S. is the shortage of N95 respirators, which are viewed as more effective at blocking viruses than the looser-fitting surgical masks. 

In a letter sent to Vice President Pence Tuesday, Dr. James Madara, the CEO and executive vice president of the American Medical Association, wrote that he is “deeply concerned” about the shortages. 

“The AMA continues to hear from physicians across the country about short supplies and limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE), which is necessary to keep the health care workforce safe and to protect the health of patients,” Madara wrote. 

“Physicians are reaching out to their state and local health departments, but their supplies of PPE are also inadequate,” he continued.

Officials in several states say they have only received a fraction of the protective equipment they requested from a national stockpile of medical supplies managed by the federal government.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told The Hill the role of the stockpile is to “fill the gap temporarily until states and localities working with the private sector can respond to the state and local needs.” 

More than 200,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, including 6,500 cases in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Of the 115 people who have died in the U.S., most were elderly or had underlying health conditions. 

Trump and public health officials in recent days have urged Americans to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the virus and ensure the health care system isn’t overwhelmed by an influx of patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines this week recommending people avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and work from home if possible. 

Health workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are at high risk for contracting the disease. Hundreds of workers have already been quarantined across the country after coming into contact with the coronavirus. 

If protective equipment is used up without being replaced, that situation could become more widespread as the coronavirus outbreak worsens in the coming days and weeks. 

“We have that constant exposure, and we need to be protected,” said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses Association and a nurse at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. 

“If we get sick, we won’t be able to take care of those who are sick,” she added. 

–Updated at 1:19 pm.

Tags Coronavirus Defense Production Act Donald Trump Mike Pence Personal protective equipment

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