WASHINGTON (CN) — The national stockpile of personal protective equipment is nearly depleted, President Donald Trump said at the White House’s Covid-19 task force briefing Wednesday.
“It is because we’re sending it directly to hospitals,” Trump said. “We don’t want it to come to the stockpile because then we have to take it after it arrives and bring it to various states and hospitals.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that two Department of Homeland Security officials said the national stockpile was never designed to fight a 50-state pandemic. Although the White House claims the stockpile has remained empty because of direct shipment to hospitals, the officials said the stockpile has not been able to fulfill recent requests for supplies.
Trump said he had given the same directive to many states to work with local businesses to manufacture and then ship protective products directly to hospitals. The administration continues to hold 10,000 reserve ventilators, which it will deploy to states with a high number of Covid-19 cases.
“We’ve already agreed to ship out over a 1,000 today to different sites, different locations, but we have to have the flexibility of moving the ventilators to where the virus is going,” Trump said. “And we’ll be able to see that from charts a couple days in advance.”
With an approaching shortage of supplies, fear of price gouging on essential equipment prompted Attorney General William Barr to threaten investigative force against U.S. wholesalers hoarding medical equipment.
As March 28, FEMA had delivered 26 million surgical masks, 5.2 million face shields and over 8,000 ventilators according to the White House.
Trump said under the authority of the Defense Production Act, local manufacturers are sharing their state and hospital needs in order to beginning the production of equipment like ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE). This will enable those organizations to allocate these resources to regions adversely affected by Covid-19, Trump said.
Ohio’s Cardinal Health, at the direction of Gov. Mike DeWine will donate 2.2 million hospital gowns to the depleted national stockpile, Trump said. Other programs like “Project Airbridge,” a partnership between federal and private entities that helps fly medical equipment to the U.S. from other countries, will help replenish the national stockpile. On Sunday, 80 tons of PPE was shipped into the U.S. from China.
“These supplies will soon be distributed across the country,” Trump said. “The amount of usage, the amount of need, is something that nobody has ever seen before. We’re getting so much, but no matter how much we get, they seem to use it up very quickly.”
Aiding states’ access to stockpiled protective equipment seems to be a priority for the Trump administration, as the president said more than 17,000 National Guard personnel had been activated to help move medical supplies to area hospitals.
Although the Trump administration extended recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for social distancing through April, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci said during the conference Wednesday that Americans won’t necessarily have to wait until Covid-19 treatment or vaccine is available to relax those guidelines.
With Italy reporting after nearly 40 days of lockdown that the number of newly infected individuals was dropping, Fauci said the U.S. also needed to steer towards a downward curve of infections – through a robust system of identifying and isolating the virus.
A vaccine would be the most effective treatment against a potentially cyclical virus like Covid-19, Fauci said, adding the development of the vaccine is still on target in phase one.
“There were three doses that we had to test,” Fauci said. “We’ve been through the first two doses, we’re on the highest dose now, when we get that data to feel confident to go to the phase two. … I think we’re right on target for a year, to a year and a half.”