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Strategic National Stockpile is ready to meet federal response to COVID-19, officials say

Officials on Thursday took issue with reports of shortages and a lack of a centralized database.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

The Strategic National Stockpile has the necessary personal protection equipment and other supplies to meet the needs of states and hospitals now and for any future surges of COVID-19, according to Department of Health and Human Services officials who held a briefing Thursday. 

The federal government has not denied a single order, said Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for Policy at HHS. 

"(There's been) no unfilled orders for a very long time," Mango said.

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The process is for a healthcare system requesting support to go to their regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state, which will then determine whether to ask the federal government for support. PPE is state managed and locally executed, Mango said.

HHS actively reaches out to health systems and nursing homes every week. They consistently tell us, he said, they have supplies on the shelf.

Providers are telling them on the weekly calls that they have up to 90 days of inventory, though some have said they are down to two days of inventory, Mango said.

Anyone can find a disgruntled nurse on the street who can't find an N95 mask, Mango said.

"We can't know what's happening on the corner of Fifth and Vine," he said.  

In June, when some people thought the surges were done, HHS went out into the market and bought a lot of PPE, he said.

HHS now has a broader stockpile and a centralized database. It's also significantly less vulnerable to foreign production, Mango said.

"We believe we're fully capable of executing our 911 mission," Mango said, clarifying that it is their 911 mission to ensure on an emergency basis that the government can supply the country with PPE, therapeutics and with personnel. 

"We're not here for daily needs," Mango said. "We're the 911 response system."

WHY THIS MATTERS

At the top of the call, Mango said he took issue with a December 9 The Wall Street Journal story that said the federal government had fallen well short of its goal to shore up an emergency stockpile of respirator masks and some other personal protective equipment for health workers amid a current surge in COVID-19 cases.

In the spring they had less than 13 million N95 masks, and now they have15 times that number, said Brigadier General David Sanford, director of the Supply Chain Task Force. While 300 million N95s was the goal, they're a little short of that, not because of a production issue, but because they diverted 14 million masks into the commercial market.

The WSJ story inaccurately said that the Strategic National Database did not have a centralized database, Mango said.

THE LARGER TREND

Earlier this month, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology found that while healthcare personnel have better access to PPE than they did in the spring, many healthcare facilities have implemented PPE crisis standards of care, according to its national survey of infection prevention experts conducted from October 22 to November 5. 

The online survey of 1,083 infection preventionists in hospitals and health facilities showed that 73% of respondents reported that their healthcare facilities have implemented PPE crisis standards of care for respirators, 68.7% for masks, and 75.8% for face shields or eye protection. This means healthcare personnel are reusing or extending the life of PPE traditionally meant for single use.