U.S. ‘wasted’ months before preparing for COVID-19 pandemic: former health secretary

As the first alarms sounded in early January that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China might ignite a g…

As the first alarms sounded in early January that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China might ignite a global pandemic, the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment.

A review of federal purchasing contracts by The Associated Press shows federal agencies waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers.

By that time, hospitals in several states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate equipment and were pleading for shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile. That federal cache of supplies was created more than 20 years ago to help bridge gaps in the medical and pharmaceutical supply chains during a national emergency.

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Now, three months into the crisis, that stockpile is nearly drained just as the numbers of patients needing critical care is surging. Some state and local officials report receiving broken ventilators and decade-old dry-rotted masks.

“We basically wasted two months,” Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services secretary during the Obama administration, told AP.

As early as mid-January, U.S. officials could see that hospitals in China’s Hubei province were overwhelmed with infected patients, with many left dependent on ventilator machines to breathe. Italy soon followed, with hospitals scrambling for doctors, beds and equipment.

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