Booker Calls for Urgent Action to Address Dire PPE Shortage
Booker: “If we have any hope of stemming the spread of this disease and preventing tragic outcomes, we must act immediately”
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) called for immediate action to address the dire shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices, and other supplies needed to combat COVID-19. In a letter to both President Trump and U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Booker described the difficulty many states, including New Jersey, are experiencing in securing the supplies they need and have requested.
“As we have seen with the rollout of COVID-19 testing, missteps and delayed action of even a few days can lead to unmitigated spread of this virus, and ultimately, preventable deaths,” Sen. Booker wrote in the letter. “Therefore, I implore you to act immediately to fulfil the requests in this letter and ensure that our nation has the supplies it needs to combat this pandemic.”
Earlier this week, Booker was joined by Senator Bob Menendez and their Senate colleagues in urging President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA), which authorizes the president to strengthen domestic manufacturing capacity and supply in extraordinary circumstances. While the president formally took this action via executive order on March 18, he has since suggested that the law and the authorities granted by it are not currently necessary — despite the urging of health care professionals to the contrary.
In the letter, Booker also requested that the administration provide the public with daily updates regarding the nation’s supply of PPE and other materials and the progress made under the DPA, including when states, hospitals, first responders, and others can expect to receive the materials they need
The full text of the letter can be found here and below:
March 21, 2020
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
The Honorable Alex M. Azar
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20201
Dear President Trump and Secretary Azar:
I write with great alarm regarding our nation’s dire shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices, and other supplies needed to combat COVID-19. I implore you to take immediate action to procure and produce the supplies our nation needs to address this pandemic and save lives.
As COVID-19 continues to spread in communities throughout the country, frontline health care workers, including those who work in hospitals, clinics, and in emergency medical services, are experiencing a severe shortage of essential equipment, including ventilators, gowns, gloves, masks, respirators, face shields, and diagnostic supplies. I have spoken with countless health care workers who fear they will run out of PPE in weeks, if not earlier, which will not only put them at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 themselves and spreading the disease to patients and others, but it will also reduce our health care workforce at a time when it is most needed. It would also hinder other essential public health activities, such as testing for COVID-19. Many health care workers are now taking extreme measures to protect themselves and their patients, including washing and reusing face shields, using masks that are intended for construction, and making PPE themselves out of office supplies.,
I have had similar distressing conversations with hospital officials who report that they will not have enough ventilator machines for every patient who may require one as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to skyrocket. In anticipation of having an insufficient number of machines, some hospitals are reportedly preparing ventilator allocation policies. If we have any hope of stemming the spread of this disease and preventing tragic outcomes, we must act immediately.
Many states have requested supplies from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile. Even when these requests have been fulfilled, states, like New Jersey, have only received a miniscule fraction of what they need and requested. On a call with state officials earlier this week, President Trump suggested that states should work to get PPE and other necessary equipment on their own. Acquiring all the necessary supplies on their own is not only difficult for states at this time, but in some cases impossible, as several states have tried to place orders with manufacturers and distributors only get outbid by the federal government. Furthermore, it is clear that in some cases, the necessary supplies simply do not exist right now.
Earlier this week, I joined several of my colleagues in urging President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA), an action he formally took via executive order on March 18, 2020. However, the President has since seemed to imply that the law and the authorities granted by it are not currently necessary. This contradicts what health care professionals are telling us: there is a dire need for these supplies now, and all Americans, but especially our frontline health care workers, will suffer if we do not rapidly increase our supply of PPE and other supplies. We must explore all options toward reaching this goal, and I again urge President Trump to immediately utilize the full authority of the DPA to procure and produce the supplies we need.
Furthermore, as the Administration official to whom much of the DPA duties have been delegated, I ask Secretary Azar to immediately order the production and distribution of PPE and other supplies such as ventilators. I also request that Secretary Azar provide the public with daily updates regarding the nation’s supply of PPE and other materials and the progress made under the DPA, including when states, hospitals, first responders, and others can expect to receive the materials they need.
As we have seen with the rollout of COVID-19 testing, missteps and delayed action of even a few days can lead to unmitigated spread of this virus, and ultimately, preventable deaths. Therefore, I implore you to act immediately to fulfil the requests in this letter and ensure that our nation has the supplies it needs to combat this pandemic.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. I look forward to continuing to work with you both to protect Americas from COVID-19.
Cory A. Booker
United States Senator
1 Thielking, Megan. “Frustrated and Afraid about Protective Gear Shortages, Health Workers Are Scouring for Masks on Their Own.” STAT, 18 Mar. 2020, www.statnews.com/2020/03/18/ppe-shortages-health-workers-afraid-scouring/.
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5 Kliff, Sarah et al. “There Aren’t Enough Ventilators to Cope with The Coronavirus.” The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/business/coronavirus-ventilator-shortage.html.
6 Cathey, Libby, and Arnholz, Jack. “Trump Signed The Defense Production Act ‘In Case We Need It.’ But What Is It?” ABC News, 18 Mar. 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-signed-defense-production-act-case/story?id=69670828.