A nurse holds up a sign to protest the lack of personal protective gear available at UCI Medical Center amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 3, 2020 in Orange, California. Hospitals nationwide are facing shortages of PPE due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mario Tama | Getty Images
The nation’s top emergency official told lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. could face shortages of personal protective equipment in areas with climbing Covid-19 cases, calling the reliance on overseas suppliers a “national security issue.”
While the U.S. has more face masks, gloves and other PPE now compared with two months ago, a surge in demand in states with growing coronavirus hospitalizations and cases could cause “micro-shortages,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor told the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“We’re in a much better place than we were coming out of March and April. However, we are not out of the woods completely with PPE,” Gaynor told lawmakers.
Local officials have criticized the nation’s efforts to procure essential protective equipment for health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, saying they’ve been placed into a competition among states, private entities and the federal government for critical supplies.
Gaynor told the committee that FEMA is still competing for the equipment, saying that other countries, governors, mayors and tribal leaders are searching for the same supplies. The U.S. doesn’t manufacture most of the supplies but instead relies on countries in Asia, including China and Vietnam, to produce the equipment, Gaynor said.
“It’s a national security issue,” he testified. “PPE and life saving equipment is just as important as building an aircraft carrier. We need to have that capacity here in the United States. We cannot rely on peer competitors to manage our destiny.”
The U.S. has made some strides in producing the equipment, but it could take months before the country can manufacture enough PPE to match its demand, specifically for states with growing needs as the outbreak spreads across the sun belt, he said.
Gaynor suggested hospitals and health-care workers report PPE shortages to their local emergency management director or public health director so FEMA can fulfill their requests.
“It is not a light switch, it’s more of a rheostat, and we have some distance to travel,” he said.
Gaynor also said he “has confidence that we will have enough PPE for today and … if there’s a second wave in the fall.”
This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.