EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The U.S. is ill-equipped to provide proper protective gear to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
At the beginning of March, The Department of Health and Human Services reported the Strategic National Stockpile was equipped with roughly 12 million N95 respirators and about 30 million surgical masks. The stockpile is the federal government’s eleventh-hour repository of medical supplies and medication. The U.S. needs about 3.5 billion masks during a pandemic, and the quantity in the national stockpile is about 1 percent of what is needed.
Five million masks in the national stockpile are expired, according to the Washington Post.
During situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, states are allocated special medical supplies to be distributed to providers and agencies who need them most.
In El Paso, sources at Customs and Border Patrol say that migrants in detention under President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy are being given dust masks because the medical masks provided were expired.
The largest distribution of supplies by the Strategic National Stockpile occurred in 2009 during the H1N1 influenza (Swine Flu) pandemic. During that period, the stockpile released 85 million N95 respirators, which are fitted and block airborne particles.
But the stockpile was never replenished after 2009.
Funds to purchase gear to protect medical professionals who treated patients with Swine Flu were available from a multibillion-dollar emergency fund authorized by Congress in 2007 and again in 2009.
On March 3, the World Health Organization warned of a shortage of personal protective equipment, a situation that endangers millions around the globe.
“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a statement.
According to WHO, about about 89 million medical masks are needed per month in response to COVID-19.
To combat the need for medical masks, WHO is working with governments, private companies, and the Pandemic Supply Chain Network to increase production by 40 percent and secure releases for countries who need them.
The Pandemic Supply Chain Network is part of the World Economic Forum’s COVID Action Platform. The World Economic Forum serves as a partner of WHO and works to stimulate international public-private cooperation in global business.
Currently, the COVID Action Platform has three missions:
- Activate the global business community to participate in collective action
- Ensure people’s livelihoods are protected and manage business continuity
- Mobilize cooperative efforts by businesses to the response to COVID-19
In the U.S., HHS plans to purchase 500 million N95 masks over the next 18 months to meet the desperate demand to be added to the Strategic National Stockpile.
Health and government officials urge people to stay inside and frequently wash their hands while protective masks remain symbolic of a public health system in desperate need of repair.