U.S. Supplies of Covid-19 PPE Fall Short of Targets

The federal government has fallen well short of its goal to shore up an emergency stockpile of respirator masks and some other personal protective equipment for health workers amid the current surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Trump administration said in May it was aiming to increase its emergency supply of N95 respirator masks to 300 million in the coming 90 days. It never met the goal; by mid-November, the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile and the Federal Emergency Management Agency held 142 million N95 masks, which filter out at least 95% of small particles and fit snugly to the face.

The U.S. also has yet to develop a centralized database to distribute medical gear to all health providers. The Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t adopted key recommendations to ease supply shortages made in September by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. A federal crisis response program hasn’t reached its staffing goals for health responders.

The predicament “underscores the critical imperative” for HHS and FEMA to adopt September recommendations to address how it would deal with supply shortages and help states track supply requests, according to a new GAO report released Nov. 30.

HHS disagreed with the need to follow GAO recommendations on handling supply shortages. An HHS spokeswoman said some GAO proposals were vague, outdated and based on incomplete data. She said HHS has filled all supply requests made of the stockpile, that some states inflate their needs and that there haven’t been directives to deploy N95 respirators from the stockpile in the past 30 days.