HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Trump Touts Stockpile Plan After Shortages

President Donald Trump announced plans to resupply and maintain the federal stockpile of medical equipment, more than two months into a coronavirus crisis that initially caught many hospitals across the U.S. with dangerous shortages of ventilators and protective gear.

The U.S. will keep 90 days of supplies to gird against any future flare-ups of the coronavirus as the nation begins to reopen its economy, according to the White House. “I’m determined that America will be fully prepared for any of the future outbreaks,” Trump said yesterday after touring an Owens & Minor distribution center for medical supplies in Allentown, Pa.

  • The Strategic National Stockpile will now maintain an inventory of supplies while additional surge manufacturing is built up, an administration official said. The president’s plan, being billed as the “Strategic National Stockpile 2.0,” will include testing supplies that weren’t maintained in the past.
  • In addition to bolstering the federal storehouse of supplies like ventilators and respirators, Trump’s plan calls for signing contracts with companies to maintain a flow into the stockpiles, similar to how the Defense Department manages its supply chains, according to administration officials.
  • Under the new system, the federal government will collect information on the manufacturing of supplies, what hospitals have available on hand, and how quickly hospitals are using up supplies, the official said. The stockpile had 13 million medical-quality N-95 masks when the coronavirus outbreak rocked the U.S. The government aspires to have 1 billion, with 300 million anticipated by fall.

As part of the effort, the president signed an executive order to help encourage domestic medical supply production by offering loans through the International Development Finance Corp. The order gives the agency’s chief executive, Adam Boehler, authority under the Defense Production Act for domestic production of “strategic resources” needed to respond to the disease, and “to strengthen any relevant domestic supply chains.” Read more from Mario Parker, Justin Sink and Jordan Fabian have more.

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
Trump touring the Owens & Minor plant

Trump Mulls Made-in-U.S. Order: The Trump administration is also preparing an executive order to require certain essential drugs and medical treatments for a variety of conditions be made in the U.S. The order comes in light of drug and device shortages during the pandemic. A draft of the order is circulating inside the government and was obtained by Bloomberg News. The order would limit any federal contracts for those supplies to manufacturers in the U.S. and would require that production be divided among multiple companies to ensure price competition. Read more from Shira Stein and Tony Capaccio.

Lax Planning Risks ‘Darkest Winter,’ Ousted HHS Official Says: The Trump administration’s push for a revamped national stockpile comes as a top public health official, who says he was removed from his post due to politics, warned House lawmakers in a hearing that the White House is not prepared for a new wave of coronavirus infections by wintertime.

Missteps by the federal government will make it harder for Americans to obtain access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, Rick Bright, who served as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until the end of last month, told lawmakers yesterday. Bright gave lawmakers and the public a rare inside look at his clashes with Department of Health and Human Services leaders over how to respond to the pandemic.

Bright said that he tried in January to secure billions of dollars to begin vaccine development, as well as to lay out a plan for deploying one. “The delay of the resources have extended the timeline to make drugs available and therefore has extended our ability to respond to this pandemic,” he said.

Without such a plan in place, the federal government is likely to struggle to have enough supplies to get millions of Americans access to vaccines and treatments currently under development for Covid-19, Bright said. “We haven’t yet gotten to those downstream strategies yet in our government and I think those are going to become significant issues down the road if we don’t plan for that now,” Bright told the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health panel.

“That inaction has put a lot of lives at risk in our front-line health-care workers,” Bright said. He also warned of dire consequences if the country fails to ramp up preparations to fight the virus. Without better planning, he said, “2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”

More on Supplies, Vaccines & Treatment:

The Path to Reopening

CDC Posts Reopen Advice: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidance yesterday advising states on how they should reopen bars, restaurants and workplaces. The guidance outlines a series of steps that should be taken to keep their workers and customers safe, such as requiring hand-washing, social distancing measures, and how to check for symptoms. An earlier version of the guidance was held back by the Trump administration for being too “prescriptive,” particularly for states that have had less intense outbreaks.

The White House’s task force issued broad guidelines for reopening the country on April 16 but largely left the specifics to states on how to restart economic and social activities. Around the U.S., states have begun moving ahead with plans to reopen, even as cases of the disease continue to circulate. But in the absence of guidance from the CDC, providing rules and advice had largely been left to state and local groups, or not dispensed at all. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs, Emma Court and Justin Sink.

Under the newly issued CDC guidelines, businesses would be encouraged to follow a series of steps.

  • Bars and restaurants shouldn’t reopen until they can follow applicable state and local orders, and until they’re ready to protect people who are at higher risk for severe illness, the guidelines say. Then they should encourage social distancing—add space between tables and stools; encourage drive-through, delivery and curbside pick-up; limit occupancy; avoid self-serve; and restrict employee shared spaces.
  • Mass-transit operators should limit routes to and from high-transmission areas before increasing to full service, as well as space out passengers by closing every other row of seats, according to the CDC’s guidelines. Youth programs, camps and childcare programs should change procedures and activities to limit shared toys and supplies, the guidelines say.

Guarding Health Data During Outbreak: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), introduced a bill that would give consumers the right to sue companies and government agencies if their private health data isn’t protected during the pandemic. The bill would require entities to obtain consent and delete any data 60 days after the health emergency ends. It would also ban sharing of data for e-commerce uses. Rebecca Kern has more.

AMA Warns on Antibody Tests: The American Medical Association said neither doctors nor the general public should use Covid-19 antibody tests to determine whether someone is protected from the pathogen. The diagnostics are designed to pick up signs that the immune system has successfully fought the infection, a step many scientists believe will signal some measure of immunity. But the AMA said given the uncertainties surrounding the tests, including over their accuracy, medical decisions shouldn’t be made based on those assumptions. Read more.

Trump Updates Death Toll Estimate: Trump told Fox Business yesterday that the U.S. is “going to lose over 100,000 perhaps in this country” due to the virus crisis. So far, over 84,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S., making it the worst-hit country in the world. The Armed Forces are now being mobilized to administer a vaccine, if one is available, “rapidly” by end of year, Trump said in the interview. Read more.

More on Testing & Reopening Efforts:

What Else to Know Today

House to Vote on Democrats’ Stimulus Bill: The House will vote today on legislation (H.R. 6800) that would provide more than $3 trillion to federal agencies, state and local governments, small businesses, and individuals. The measure was assembled by House Democrats and represents a starting point in negotiations with Republicans for another coronavirus response package.

The measure would provide almost $1 trillion to state and local governments, establish a Heroes Fund to provide $200 billion in hazard pay to essential workers, make another round of payments to individuals of as much as $1,200, and extend unemployment benefits.

Republicans oppose the measure and Trump yesterday threatened to veto the measure. Read an in-depth analysis of the measure in the BGOV Bill Summary.

Senators Urge Justices to Uphold ACA: Over three dozen groups ranging from 47 Senate Democrats, to states, to medical and insurance associations called on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Obamacare after a federal appeals court said that at least part of it is unconstitutional. A high court decision declaring that the entire Affordable Care Act is invalid 10 years after its enactment will have major consequences, as an estimated 20 million people have come to depend on it to ensure they can get and pay for health care, they argued. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com; Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloomberglaw.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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