Oversight Committee Says Critical Shortages of Medical Supplies Loom

Demand for ventilators outstripping capacity of national stockpile

Oversight Committee Says Critical Shortages of Medical Supplies Loom
Boxes of N95 protective masks for use by medical field personnel are seen at a New York State emergency operations incident command center during the CCP virus outbreak in New Rochelle, N.Y., on March 17, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Alan McDonnell

FEMA only has enough personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to meet "a fraction" of the requests coming in from COVID-19 hotspots, according to a statement issued Thursday by Chairperson of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Maloney implored the government to increase efforts to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators to five states and the District of Columbia as the number of CCP virus infections there continue to steepen their increase.

FEMA told the committee that most of the 100,000 ventilators planned for production will not be available until at least June of this year.

"The Administration should utilize the Defense Production Act and other legal authorities to maximize domestic production," Maloney warned, to "ensure suppliers are prioritizing U.S. needs before exporting critical supplies, and ensure that cities, states, and the federal government are working together, rather than competing to procure scarce supplies.”
The documents from FEMA were in regards to FEMA Region III, which includes Delaware, the District of ColumbiaMarylandPennsylvaniaVirginia, and West Virginia.

The documents confirmed that by March 30, FEMA had only provided a low proportion of each jurisdiction’s requests for PPE and other necessary supplies; less than 10 percent of the 5.2 million N95 masks requested, less than 1 percent of the 194 million pairs of sterile gloves requested, and none of the 15,000 body bags requested.

However, it should be noted that the numbers requested by Region III have not taken into account the actual number of supplies required in a given period. It is also unclear how many items are stockpiled in reserves.

Demand for Ventilators Outstripping Capacity

FEMA conceded on April 1 that, based on current projections, demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the Strategic National Stockpile as well as those ventilators provided by the Department of Defense.

The agency's administrator therefore directed that ventilators now be treated as a “strategic national asset.” Ventilators are not to be released to states unless there exists an “exigent need” to sustain lives “within 72 hours.”

On March 30, FEMA officials had told the committee that there are currently approximately 9,500 ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile.

It added that its Supply Chain Task Force was also working to acquire about 3,200 more units by the week beginning April 13, although President Trump said earlier this week that the number of cases of COVID-19 could peak before that — around Easter.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that New York State, which has seen the most infections and deaths in the country from the CCP virus, has started using anesthesia machines as ventilators

"We are 'splitting' ventilator tubes so two patients can share a ventilator. We are converting BiPAP machines into ventilators; We are scouring the globe to acquire more ventilators."

At the same time, Cuomo confirmed that New York still had "6 days of ventilators left in our stockpile at the current burn rate. We are taking extraordinary measures to move ventilators to meet the need."

Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force

FEMA also says that its Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force is executing a "whole-of-America" approach to address the nation's limited supply of PPE and other life-saving equipment.
Through a four-prong approach of Preservation, Acceleration, Expansion, and Allocation, FEMA is working to make the most of existing resources to best protect the American people, the agency says.

To this end, the task force is preserving inventories of critical materials by limiting their use and by developing methods to sanitize, re-use, and recycle PPE materials. FEMA hopes to accelerate the procurement of PPEs by expediting their delivery from suppliers around the world to medical distribution centers across the United States.

One example of this is FEMA's coordination with Asian manufacturers for the delivery of 80 tons of PPE materials to New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey on March 29.

The task force is also seeking to expand American production of PPE materials and ventilators, while allocating such resources on a data-informed basis, which FEMA says is being coordinated between the federal government and private sector companies.