Reports: Stockpile of N95 masks depleted, never restocked on Obama’s watch

by WorldTribune Staff, March 24, 2020

There is a shortage in the Strategic National Stockpile of one of the most needed supplies amid the coronavirus outbreak — N95 respirator masks — in large part because the Obama administration failed to replenish the supply following the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, reports say.

Current Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar reported last month that only 12 million N95 masks were available in the stockpile, “a tiny fraction of the 3.5 billion masks one of Azar’s deputies later testified the nation’s healthcare system would need,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

In 2009, the H1N1 outbreak hit the United States, leading to 274,304 hospitalizations, 12,469 deaths, and a depletion of N95 respirator masks.

Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reported 35,225 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Monday.

Following the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, the Obama administration was advised to replenish the national stockpile but did not. A federally backed task force and a safety equipment organization both reportedly recommended to the Obama administration that the stockpile be replenished

“Our association is unaware of any major effort to restore the stockpile to cover that drawdown,” said Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association.

Bloomberg News reported similar findings last week, noting, “After the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog [of] orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”

Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration had asked construction companies to “donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital and forgo additional orders of those industrial masks” and the Defense Department would provide 5 million N95 masks and 2,000 ventilators to help bridge the gap.

The George W. Bush administration published the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza plan in 2005, which called on the federal government to distribute medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile governed by the Health and Human Services Department in the event of an outbreak.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the administration’s coronavirus task force, said on Sunday that a quarter-million people had been tested for the virus, with 9 out of 10 people testing negative.

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