Exclusive: U.S. Mulls Using Sweeping Powers to Ramp up Production of Coronavirus Protective Gear

President Donald Trump’s administration is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic production of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

The use of the law, passed by Congress in 1950 at the outset of the Korean War, would mark an escalation of the administration’s response to the outbreak. The virus first surfaced in China and has since spread to other countries including the United States.

U.S. health officials have told Americans to begin preparing for the spread of the virus in the United States.

The law grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security and other reasons.

Trump has faced criticism from Democrats over his administration’s response to the outbreak.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers this week that the United States needs a stockpile of about 300 million N95 face masks – respiratory protective devices – to combat the spread of the virus. The United States currently has only a fraction of that number available for immediate use, Azar testified.

During an interagency call on Wednesday, officials from HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discussed the possibility of invoking the Defense Production Act for the manufacture of “personal protective equipment” that can be worn to prevent infection, according to a DHS official.

A White House official confirmed that the administration was exploring the use of the law to spur manufacturing of protective gear.

Both officials requested anonymity to discuss the issue.

“Let’s say ‘Company A’ makes a multitude of respiratory masks but they spend 80% of their assembly lines on masks that painters wear and only 20% on the N95,” the White House official said. “We will have the ability to tell corporations, ‘No, you change your production line so it is now 80% of the N95 masks and 20% of the other.'”

“It allows you to basically direct things happening that need to get done,” the official added.

The DHS official said insufficient supplies of such protective gear are currently made in the United States.

“Very little of this stuff is apparently made in the (United) States, so if we’re down to domestic capability to produce, it could get tough,” the official added.

Invoking the law is one of a number of options under consideration by the administration to combat the virus, the officials said, and no final decision has been made. Trump invoked the law in 2017 to address technological shortfalls in a vaccine production capability and other items such as microelectronics.

The law grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs,” according to a summary on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.

Azar testified on Wednesday that the United States has a stockpile of around 12 million of the N95 masks that are in line with certifications from the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). HHS also has another 5 million N95 masks that are no longer NIOSH certified, Azar said, perhaps because they are past the expiration date.

In addition to those masks, the U.S. government has a stockpile of 30 million “gauze type” surgical masks, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said are less effective because they are loose-fitting.

Azar said the government needs a stockpile of approximately 300 million N95 masks.

“It will take time because China does control a lot of the raw materials as well as the manufacturing capacity,” Azar said.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Alexandra Alper; Additional reporting by Michael Erman, Jeff Mason and Mike Stone; Editing by Ross Colvin and Will Dunham)

Responses

  1. Use those “sweeping powers” to ramp up vaccine production, forcibly quarantine the infected, and make vaccine available to those who sign waivers. Ban travel to/from infected areas.

    1. This all makes sense, but the White House hasn’t even committed to a vaccine being affordable. They haven’t even committed to travel bans.

      Stupid poor people not budgetting for a few grand per person in the family for an world wide outbreak of a deadly disease, right?

      1. Got $5 million for testing?

        This article made headlines a few days ago.

        “https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/a-made-in-canada-solution-to-the-coronavirus-outbreak/”

        1. I agree that the gov’t needs to act.
          ….but this may not be the crisis it’s being made out to be. It kills less people than the flu. If you’re healthy you’re survivability is 97-98%.

          Also, the gov’t has had plans and measures in place for EXACTLY this scenario since 9/11. The subsequent swine flu, SARS, Ebola scares taught them what to do and what not to do.

          Wait for a government warning not to drink cheap Mexican beer.

      2. Phoenix,
        1. The vaccine, originally developed for SARS (which was um, 10 year ago?) works because the SARS and Mexicanswillbeer virus share 80% commonality.
        2. The developer is Canadian, so while the FDA controls and approves for USE in the US, we have no control over the prices.(see below)
        3. “stupid poor people” may get it for free or subsidized q.v. smallpox or disaster relief.

        We can’t guess at the pricing nor the ultimate availability, except that the FDA trials should be waived AND the WH should pre-order a bunch. Such an infusion of capital (theres’ that magic word) should ramp up production. It may even be able to leverage a bulk discount. (q.v. how gov’ts like Canada buy drugs)

        1. Almost forgot. Israel has also developed a vaccine and other countries have just started work. But there’s a huge time lag between development and production.

  2. A Confused, mental-deficient wrote:
    “Is this administration willing to enforce travel bans?”

    Try to keep up. It has and the SC backed it.

  3. There IS a vaccine for the coronavirus. It was developed by a private, genmod company. (to paraphrase Obozo, the gov’t did NOT build that)

    We won’t see if for at least 1.5 years because it MUST be approved by the FDA for trials on humans.

    Was someone saying something about bureaucracies? How about Trump give approval for the mass-manufacture of this with the understanding that those who use it sign full waivers? If someone’s dying then let them choose to take the risk.

    That’s called personal choice and consequences. The shorter name is personal responsibility.

  4. You had better start expanding your emergency fund reserves, too, because this administration is willing to fund the medical research to find a solution for this infection with OUR MONEY but they are NOT willing to enforce them charging a reasonable price for us to get, say, an injection. They admit that they would let the drug companies hold us ransom to their profits. That’s how much they care for you.

    M4A would solve this.

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