In a daily press briefing last week from the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force, Navy Rear Admiral John Polowczyk shared large numbers to illustrate the magnitude of the federal government’s response to the crisis – 27.1 million masks pushed to state governments, 19.5 million N95 masks for medical personnel, 22.4 million pairs of protective gloves for first responders, 5.2 million face masks and 7 600 fans, which represents 100,000 in June.
The senior Pentagon official responsible for streamlining the US supply chain spoke as if the epidemic – as well as the healthcare system and its severe equipment shortages – were fully under control.
But many state governors and Democrats quickly differed. US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, among the most vocal critics of President Donald Trump’s strategy, said Polowczyk’s logistical leadership in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is insufficient, and that the Defense Production Act policy coordinator Peter Navarro is also insufficient.
Schumer and others have argued that the military should play an even greater role in requisitioning resources and leading a war effort to make enough equipment to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.
“America cannot count on a patchwork of uncoordinated voluntary efforts to combat the terrible scale of this pandemic,” said the New York senator in a letter to the president. He called for a fully empowered military “czar” in the coronavirus task force.
Schumer demanded that Trump “quickly implement a plan to increase the production, supply and distribution of essential medical devices and equipment” and called Navarro “terribly unskilled”. He also noted “ghost” participation in the working group of chief presidential adviser Jared Kushner.
Sunday, the frank senator from New York even sent to the chief of staff of the White House, Mark Meadows, a list of names of people able to supervise all aspects of the production and distribution of medical products.
While some criticisms of the White House response can easily be dismissed as partisan quarrels during an election year, logistics experts say there is no doubt that US attempts to put together a coherent program have so far been chaotic.
Tim Dall, health economist at IHS Markit, said political strife was not limited to the United States and that disruptions in the global medical supply chain could also be at least partially to blame.
“Every country wants to take care of itself to some extent,” Dall told Al Jazeera. “On top of that in China, [some] production capacity has ceased due to the coronavirus. “
Many countries are suppressing exports of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to focus on their national battle against COVID-19. Dall described the international rush for health care resources as a “perfect storm”, calling the US experience with medical equipment “poor geographic distribution”.
In the absence of a coordinated federal effort, states have been forced to plunge into this perfect storm and jockey with each other for the same products from foreign suppliers.
Referring to the needs of hospitals in the state of Utah, where he resides, Dall said local hospitals are reluctant to forgo supplies “because a week or two later, they don’t want to be in the same situation that New York “.
However, Dall believes that the United States will see significant staff sharing and, assuming the initial epicenters are not too shocked, “we can [subsequently] have supplies abandoned and shipped where they are most needed. “
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“Not on politics”
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo believes that states cannot organize “continuous deployments” on their own when all 50 – in addition to FEMA – are all trying to buy identical products in China.
Cuomo, in his own daily briefings, said that states are unable to handle current public health emergencies without federal assistance.
“I can’t say to a hospital, ‘I will send you all the supplies you need, I will send you all the ventilators you need,'” Cuomo said on Sunday.
” We do not know it. It is not an exercise. It is not an exercise. It’s just a statement of reality, “added Cuomo. “You will have to move and deploy resources to different locations depending on the needs of that location. “
Navy admiral Polowczyk said last week that his role was to “increase the flow to the health care market,” which implied that the military would increase but would not try to reinvent chain logic existing supply established by the private sector.
Polowczyk pointed to the logistics tool the Department of Defense uses to find pockets of personal protective equipment (PPE) up to the county level. He also cited the success of “airlift” flights that bring massive amounts of medical supplies directly to the United States from China in a process that typically takes 37 days.
The federal government, he said, is doing everything it can.
“My sister is a nurse practitioner at a Westchester hospital and my niece is a nurse at a Long Island hospital,” he said, referring to family members who needed materials on the front lines of the pandemic in New York State. “I have the skin in this game.”