If the national stockpile is not replenished by September, the scientists warned that the U.S. stands to repeat the “extraordinary shortage of supplies” experienced in March and April.
Nine top scientists who advised former President Obama are warning that the United States has only three months to replenish its national stockpile of emergency medical supplies, or it risks once again facing dramatic shortages of testing kits and personal protective equipment if the nation experiences a second surge of COVID-19 infections in the fall.
“The Strategic National Stockpile has been a key component of U.S. preparedness since 2002. In recent years the Nation has let down its guard,” the group wrote. “It is imperative that the SNS, and in particular, the U.S. pandemic preparedness stockpile be rebuilt by September 2020, and then sustained into the future.”
If it’s not, they warned the nation stands to repeat the “extraordinary shortage of supplies” experienced in March and April that left nurses and doctors using bandanas as masks and trashbags as gowns to try and protect themselves.
“Preparation for a resurgence needs to be initiated now. It needs to be at a national level, in close collaboration and coordination with state and local officials,” the letter reads.
The group of nine scientists also criticized the Trump administration for failing to act on the recommendations of several studies urging a replenishment of the stockpile to prepare for exactly the sort of pandemic the U.S. is now experiencing.
“During the period from 2006 until now, many studies have projected the needs, in the event of a pandemic, for surgical and high-intensity respirator masks, other personal protective equipment (PPE), durable equipment such as ventilators, and supplies used for testing, together with estimated quantities that should be stockpiled to help satisfy that need,” they wrote. “The result of the failure to act on the recommendations of these studies and to appropriate and carry out the funding and actions authorized … has been that the United States was unprepared for the supply needs of the Spring 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Trump administration has been widely criticized for its months-long delays in rolling out widespread testing, PPE shortages, and failure to coordinate effectively with states. Trump was also slow to invoke the Defense Production Act to compel corporations into manufacturing supplies, ignored numerous warnings about the dangers of a pandemic, and failed to follow a 69-page playbook on pandemic response developed by the Obama administration.
The nine authors, led by John Holdren, Obama’s White House science adviser, are among the nation’s leading scientists. Holdren now works at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, while other members of the group include Harold Varmus, a former Nobel Prize winner, Eric Lander, now at MIT and Harvard, and Susan Graham of UC Berkeley. Between 2009 and 2016 the group of nine co-wrote six reports for Obama that touched on viral pandemics, according to the Guardian.
They also issued a series of recommendations for how to mitigate a potential shortage, including calling on Congress to spend $30 billion to replenish the stockpile, urging the formation of a bipartisan advisory group to submit plans to Congress for replenishing the stockpile and later allocating and distributing its items. They also called for $100 million in funding to allow the CDC and FEMA to strengthen the supply chain of items needed to fight COVID-19 and for long-term reviews and replenishment of the stockpile, even after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
According to the Guardian, the letter is being distributed to senior Trump administration officials, members of Congress, Republican and Democratic governors and mayors, Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and “non-governmental opinion leaders.” The group plans to put out further advice in the coming months relating to contact tracing, antibody tests, and data management.
The letter was published the same day that a Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that front-line healthcare workers experienced shortages of essential equipment needed for protection from the coronavirus into early May.
RELATED: While Trump Failed to Add Masks to the National Stockpile, He Encouraged Companies to Sell Them to China
Nearly two-thirds of healthcare workers surveyed said they did not have sufficient supplies of N95 masks, which filter out 95% of airborne particles. More than 4 in 10 also experienced shortages of less protective surgical masks, 86% reported wearing one mask for their entire shift, and 72% said they had to wear the same mask more than once.
Healthcare workers also held Trump in poor regard for his response to the coronavirus. A 59% majority of those surveyed disapproved of Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, while only 41% approved.