As we head into the winter months and the speed of recent instances of Covid-19 is predicted to rise in america, we should take inventory of what has labored and what didn’t in our nationwide response to the virus so far. Doing so will not be an train in armchair quarterbacking, however somewhat a mandatory and important step towards preparation for the second wave and/or subsequent pandemic. Failure to take action would assure an inefficient response and, even worse, unnecessarily price lives.
Nowhere is the necessity for enchancment extra obvious than in relation to private protecting tools (PPE), which is overly reliant on international suppliers as an alternative of American suppliers. This isn’t solely a public well being risk, however a nationwide safety threat.
Within the early days of the pandemic, stockpiles of PPE have been quickly depleted. Docs and nurses on the entrance traces have been lowered to carrying trash baggage and ponchos for cover — which led to rightful shock and concern from People. Makeshift and improvised PPE not solely fails these being handled, however the first responders too. By subjecting docs and nurses to unreliable dwelling treatments, they’re being needlessly distracted by worrying about their stage of security and safety when they need to be targeted on the wants of the affected person.
And when hospitals, states and others on the entrance traces requested for extra PPE to satisfy the scarcity, the federal authorities was unable to satisfy the demand. American corporations corresponding to 3M and Honeywell have been solely capable of improve masks manufacturing to 70 million a month, which was nicely wanting the five hundred million that the Division of Well being and Human Providers sought.
The pure plan of action was to show to international suppliers — whom we have been already closely reliant on pre-pandemic. In line with a report by the Federal Reserve Financial institution of St. Louis, in 2018, of the $29 billion of PPE america imported, 28 % got here from China and 18 % from the European Union. Much more staggering is the truth that 95 percent of N95 masks in america are manufactured in China. So when america sought to replenish our depleted stockpile, it was confronted with a brand new problem: The worldwide demand for PPE brought about the U.S. to not have the ability to purchase the PPE wanted to guard first responders. And of the items that we have been capable of purchase, many have been defective and not suitable for use.
Our over-reliance on international suppliers put the nation in a harmful state of affairs and it’s one which we may very nicely face once more. But, a recurrence of this nightmare state of affairs is avoidable if we do two key issues.
First, we should acknowledge that whereas N95 masks are essential, they aren’t as price efficient as different choices. They’re constructed for single-use and are often compromised by improper match, in addition to facial hair, moisture and humidity. Throughout a typical shift at a hospital, medical employees will every use a number of N95 masks. As an alternative, america ought to search to bolster its provide of Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs), which give enhanced safety and safety — 99 % versus the 95 % supplied by N95s. Because the CDC notes, these not solely are simpler becoming than their N95 counterparts, however enable for sufferers to see the face of the well being care employee. Additional, they’re fully reusable and may be shortly cleaned after use. The price profit is immeasurable.
Subsequent, america ought to shift its dependency on international manufactured PPE to domestically produced provides. By specializing in producing extra of those crucial provides right here in america, in addition to guaranteeing that they’re American made, we can extra readily meet surges in demand which can be produced by a pandemic like Covid-19.
Additional, manufacturing these crucial provides right here has an financial profit for People and the nation as an entire. Doing so wouldn’t solely present good paying jobs to Americans, however there are additionally geopolitical advantages.
It’s no secret that america and China are engaged in a brand new chilly struggle; one the place all sides seeks dominance by means of financial energy and affect. Inserting an emphasis on home manufacturing of PPE will thereby scale back China’s management over this market as nicely function an efficient counter to the Asian nation.
A number of American PPE producers have sounded the alarm on america’s reliance on foreign-produced PPE. They’ve the capability to supply the protecting tools wanted by our well being care employees and achieve this at aggressive costs. Fortunately, members of the Home and Senate have seen the necessity to increase the nationwide stockpile with PPE that’s made in America. In July, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) launched S.4264 the U.S. Made Act of 2020 and Reps. Pascrell (D-N.J.) and McHenry (R-N.C.) launched the American PPE Supply Chain Integrity Act. Each of those payments go a great distance in guaranteeing the safety of our PPE and Congress ought to shortly move them.
As flu season approaches and worries a few simultaneous second wave of Covid-19, we have to be ready as a nation. Utilizing American-made PPE will assist us to keep away from the shortages of crucial provides that we noticed within the spring and assist to make sure that they’re of the best high quality. Failure to take action would solely exacerbate the issues when our healthcare system is stretched skinny.
Photograph: Ethan Miller, Getty Photos