President Trump has not yet forced any companies to produce equipment to fight the novel coronavirus despite healthcare workers reporting nationwide shortages, he said at a Saturday briefing by the administration’s coronavirus task force.
The president invoked the Defense Production Act on Thursday, a law that gives the government authority in emergencies to harness industrial production to help in a time of need.
However, Trump said there had been no need to force companies to produce equipment yet because “we have so many companies making so many products” voluntarily.
He said on Saturday that Hanes had retrofitted factories to make N95 masks and Pernod Ricard, an alcohol manufacturer, had switched facilities in three states into factories making hand sanitizer that will be distributed to New York and other states.
Many of these products will be sold on the open market but the federal government will not bid against states, Trump said.
“We have the Act to use in case we need it. But we have so many things being made… They’ve just stepped up... We have never never seen anything like that,” he said. “They are volunteering.”
The picture has been much different on the frontline. Healthcare workers have told The Daily Beast that they are reusing single-use gear and fashioning new equipment out of protective material because of extreme shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals. Some hospitals are rationing gear at levels they have never seen.
There have been 22,177 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 278 deaths, according to the latest figures from John Hopkins University.
The Department of Health & Human Services had just placed an order for “hundreds of millions” of N95 masks to be made available to healthcare providers across the country in the coming days, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said. More gear was being deployed through the Strategic National Stockpile—a repository of pharmaceuticals and medical products for use in a public health emergency.
Federal stockpiles of personal protective equipment, masks, ventilators and other equipment was being distributed to states who had requested them through FEMA, the task force said. However, officials struggled to say on Saturday how many masks there were, and how and when they would be made available.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said reporters were not “making things up” when they reported on hospital shortages.
“I get the calls every night the way you get emails. It’s a serious issue,” he said. “We don’t want that to happen. But it is happening.”
He reiterated the need for states to apply for equipment through FEMA and said large amounts of additional PPE were coming into the system “very soon.” “Sooner than weeks. It’s going to be days, I would hope,” he added. “We’re going to try to make it days the best possible way we can.”
Trump’s comments came as Vice President Mike Pence appealed again on Saturday for Americans to postpone non-critical healthcare producers so equipment can instead be diverted to the coronavirus crisis. He also reiterated previous pleas for non-essential healthcare workers, like dentists, to donate their supplies.
Trump acknowledged that the administration was trying to get equipment to states faster. “The people working on this are incredible. But there are tremendous amounts of not only masks, but ventilators, and respirators... It’s all being manufactured right now,” he said.