The path not taken.
- Oct 9, 2009
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President Donald Trump's administration is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States, two U.S. officials told...
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s administration is considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States, two U.S. officials told Reuters.
The use of the law, passed by Congress in 1950 at the outset of the Korean War, would mark an escalation of the administration’s response to the outbreak. The virus first surfaced in China and has since spread to other countries including the United States.
U.S. health officials have told Americans to begin preparing for the spread of the virus in the United States.
The law grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security and other reasons. The biggest producers of face masks in the United States include 3M Corp and Honeywell International Inc.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers this week that the United States needs a stockpile of about 300 million N95 face masks - respiratory protective devices - for medical workers to combat the spread of the virus. The United States currently has only a fraction of that number available for immediate use, Azar testified.
During an interagency call on Wednesday, officials from HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discussed the possibility of invoking the Defense Production Act for the manufacture of “personal protective equipment” that can be worn to prevent infection, according to a DHS official.
Such equipment can include masks, gloves and body suits.
Azar said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that China controls “a lot of the raw materials as well as the manufacturing capacity” related to face masks.
“Very little of this stuff is apparently made in the (United) States, so if we’re down to domestic capability to produce, it could get tough,” the DHS official told Reuters.
The law grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs,” according to a summary on the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.
Azar testified on Wednesday that the United States has a stockpile of around 12 million of the N95 masks that are in line with certifications from the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). HHS also has another 5 million N95 masks that are no longer NIOSH certified, Azar said, perhaps because they are past the expiration date.
In addition to those masks, the U.S. government has a stockpile of 30 million “gauze type” surgical masks, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said are less effective because they are loose-fitting.
Azar said the government needs a stockpile of approximately 300 million N95 masks.