Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic as cases surge, the U.S. remains critically short of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies.
A record 100,000 patients were hospitalized due to the coronavirus nationwide for the first time last week, numbers that continue to increase daily.
More than 275,000 have died already and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, Dr. Robert Redfield predicted the virus could claim more than 400,000 lives by February without greater prevention measures.
While the national stockpile of PPE supplies has increased since the start of the pandemic, reports of supply shortages for frontline workers are on the rise, particularly those working for small healthcare systems, nursing homes or clinics in rural areas across the country.
Domestic manufacturing production of PPE supplies was far from meeting national demand prior to the pandemic. The U.S. was already the world’s largest importer of PPE products, with 19% of total world imports in 2019, according to the WTO.
Despite well-publicized efforts to increase domestic production in the early months of the virus, the industry is years away from creating an onshore supply chain capable of meeting a public health crisis such as Covid-`19 or a significant flu outbreak.
The U.S. remains deeply dependent on the international market to provide PPE supplies, a market dominated by China. When the pandemic struck, U.S. tariffs on Chinese products led to higher prices for U.S. hospitals and consumers and slowed distribution, even as the virus spread.
The tariffs ranged from 15% to 25% on items like protective face masks, hand sanitizer, isolation gowns, wet wipes and Nitrile gloves used to administer vaccines.
In March, the administration granted waivers from the tariffs to a portion of the medical products used to combat the coronavirus.
However, a June report from the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) identified tariffs on over 100 types of PPE or products involved in the prevention or treatment of coronavirus.
Businesses and policymakers are working to eliminate some of the roadblocks, including the tariffs, that have made it more difficult and more costly to bring PPE into the United States from overseas.
“Nothing is more important at this moment than combating the coronavirus” said Bilal Nael, whose company imports over $100 million in PPE supplies to the U.S. monthly from China.
“It’s our responsibility to pursue every avenue that can get these supplies into the hands of people that need them as quickly as possible.
We are working around the clock to manufacture the products needed to stop the spread and protect front line workers dealing with this virus every day.”