Trump administration plans to expand emergency gear in national stockpile

The adequacy of the federal Strategic National Stockpile and the way supplies have been distributed emerged as one of the sore points in the Trump administration’s response to the escalation of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus and which has now claimed about 84,000 lives in the United States.

Trump repeatedly has said that the stockpile should be regarded as a source of last resort and that states and hospitals should do everything they can to buy emergency supplies on their own. At one point, he told Vice President Pence not to call governors who complained.

Supplies have been distributed unevenly, prompting complaints from many governors. And long before the coronavirus arrived in the United States, the stockpile had been underfunded for years. In early April, Department of Homeland Security officials acknowledged that stores of emergency gear in the stockpile were nearly depleted.

The stockpile was long managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but responsibility shifted in late 2018 to the Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response. Once Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency in March, responsibility shifted again, to the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Previewing the president’s announcement in a conference call with reporters, a senior administration official Thursday portrayed the stockpile’s shortcomings as a lingering result of not replenishing it after earlier public health threats — not because of decisions administration officials have made.

The official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity in advance of the president’s remarks, said the net effect was that the stockpile held just one to three weeks’ supplies of essential protective equipment, including N95 masks and gowns.

Another administration official said that calculations have been made of how much of each type of equipment is needed to maintain a supply of one, two or three months.

“We will be working to put that on the shelves in a manner so the stockpile is not a singular purchase,” the official said.

Instead, U.S. manufacturers will keep “production lines warm,” the official said, so that they would not have to start from scratch if surges are needed in the event cases of covid-19 spike later.

“This is about making sure America is prepared for whatever comes in the future,” an official said, as well as “about bringing back jobs.” The official said the president and aides have been especially concerned about shifting reliance for emergency supplies from companies oversees to U.S. factories.

Another official said that when the pandemic arrived in the United States, the stockpile carried only 28 percent of the emergency supplies that fighting it requires. It did not carry medicine or testing supplies, the official said, adding the goal now is to stock “a much broader and deeper set of supplies.”

In recent years, the emphasis of officials who oversaw the stockpile was on preparations for a terrorist threat, not for a pandemic respiratory virus.

When the coronavirus arrived, the stockpile contained 13 million N95 masks, and the goal now it to have 300 million by the fall. The administration also will seek to increase the supply of gowns from 2 million to 6 million or 7 million, and to store “millions of milliliters of crucial drugs,” an official said.

The officials did not address whether the stockpile could become more than a supplier of last resort.

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