Experts say face mask shortage led to significant loss of life in US



A number of health experts have opined that the millions of face masks donated by the Trump administration to China earlier this year when coronavirus was raging in that country created a shortage of protective gear, which probably contributed to a significant loss of life in the United States.

The US shipped millions of dollars' worth of face masks and other protective medical equipment to China in January and February.

Based on a review of economic data and internal government documents, Washington Post journalists Juliet Eilperin, Jeff Stein, Desmond Butler and Tom Hamburger wrote that the Trump administration had failed to recognize and prepare for the growing pandemic threat.

In those two months, the value of protective masks and related items exported from the United States to China grew more than 1,000 percent compared to the same time last year -- from $1.4 million to about $17.6 million, according to an analysis of customs categories. Similarly, shipments of ventilators and protective garments jumped by triple digits.

"Instead of taking steps to prepare, they ignored the advice of one expert after another," said Lloyd Doggett, Democrat Representative from Texas.
"People right now, as we speak, are dying because there have been inadequate supplies of PPE," the lawmaker was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Throughout the country, the shortage has forced hospitals, nursing homes and first responders to ration masks and other protective gear as they treat infected and high-risk patients, creating a secondary health crisis among the first-line care providers, the authors wrote in the article.
"This is one of the multiple failures that have contributed to a significant loss of life in the United States," Doggett said.

"At the very time that Trump is having his first press conference with his coronavirus team, his administration is hawking the vital medical supplies under the title, 'COVID-19 to China'," he added further.

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control cited by the newspaper show that 9,282 US healthcare workers have been diagnosed with the virus till April 2. By April 9, at least 723 had been hospitalized, including 184 in the ICU. Twenty-seven had died from COVID-19 infection.
Today, China's imports of masks and other PPE from around the world are seen by some White House officials as part of a deliberate attempt by the mainland to corner the market as it concealed and downplayed the danger posed by the outbreak.

"While China was silent on the seriousness of the crisis, they were quietly buying up a large portion of the world's global supply for masks and other PPE," opined Peter Navarro, who directs trade policy at the White House and was among the American officials who raised early alarms, writing memos early in the year that the outbreak could imperil millions of Americans and required increased supplies of protective equipment.

Desperate officials in Illinois reported last week that N95 masks, which typically cost $1.75 apiece, are being sold for as much as $12 each as states frantically bid against one another.
On April 2, the US government reversed its course completely when President Donald Trump planned to invoke the Defence Production Act against 3M and ordered the St. Paul, Minnesota-based mask producing giant - from selling the protective gear to foreign customers and requiring only to provide them to the Americans first.

"We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their masks," Trump tweeted, as he announced plans to invoke the Defence Production Act "against 3m."
However, the President's push encountered immediate resistance from Canada, other US allies, and 3M, whose CEO called Trump's complaint "absurd" and warned of "consequences on a humanitarian level" if the company did not fulfill orders to other countries.

Following which, the Trump administration, three days later, ordered 3M to continue providing masks to foreign customers, while ramping up domestic production.
Early in the outbreak response, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Strategic National Stockpile had approximately 13 million N95 respirators available to distribute to US healthcare workers, and they have now given away 90 percent of them.

Local governments and hospitals are appealing to members of Congress for help securing protective equipment, while the Congress has authorized a special commission last month that will review the international supply chain and its effect on domestic health security

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