Warren, Schakowsky investigate reports that Trump administration dismissed an offer to manufacture millions of N95 respirators even after the first COVID-19 case was detected in the United States
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence requesting information regarding reports and whistleblower complaints that the Trump Administration rejected an offer from Prestige Ameritech, a medical company that identifies itself as the largest domestic manufacturer of surgical masks and respirators in America, to build up domestic manufacturing capacity for N95 respirators just as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first detected in the United States and in anticipation of the extreme demand to come.
"The Trump Administration's failure to properly prepare for a pandemic-and its lackadaisical response in the weeks between the first COVID-19 case being identified and the first American contracting the disease-left states and hospitals unprepared and under-resourced to combat the COVID-19 pandemic," the lawmakers wrote. "This inaction likely contributed to the spread of COVID-19 among health care workers and had devastating effects on our nation's health care workforce."
In a matter of weeks after the Administration turned down this offer, there were nationwide shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, gloves, and masks and other face covers-equipment crucial to preventing the spread of the virus and protecting first responders and other health care professionals at the front lines of the pandemic. Dozens of reports have surfaced of nurses and doctors using the same mask to treat several patients across multiple days, greatly increasing the chances of transmission. Even as the shortage and its consequences became apparent, President Trump failed to use his powers under the Defense Production Act to direct manufacturers to produce personal protective equipment. Dr. Rick Bright, then Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, repeatedly raised concerns within the Department and called on the United States Department of Health and Human Services to take up Prestige Ameritech's offer.
Today, health care professionals and first responders are still being forced to reuse N95 respirators or use a less safe option.
"Together, all the available evidence paints an alarming picture - that the Trump Administration failed to build up and invest in our country's domestic manufacturing capacity for crucial medical equipment and personal protective equipment even when the resources were made available to them," the lawmakers wrote. "We have introduced legislation, the COVID-19 Emergency Manufacturing Act of 2020, which would give the federal government authority to immediately enter into contracts and manufacture medical devices, personal protective equipment, and other products to combat COVID-19 to ensure that we can adequately fight the pandemic."
The lawmakers further call on the federal government to work expeditiously to coordinate its domestic manufacturing efforts for COVID-19 medical products and to respond to their letter no later than July 2, 2020 to better understand the federal government's refusal to procure N95 respirators from Prestige Ameritech and other potential untapped sources of personal protective equipment available to the federal government.
Senator Warren and Congresswoman Schakowsky introduced the COVID-19 Emergency Manufacturing Act of 2020, which would authorize the federal government to manufacture medical products, including by contracting with existing manufacturers, to ensure the nation has an adequate supply of critical materials to avoid rationing during this unprecedented crisis. Soon after introducing their bill, both lawmakers called on the Trump Administration to coordinate its domestic manufacturing efforts to produce COVID-19 medical products and requested information on the federal government's capacity to develop and manufacture therapeutics and vaccines.