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Seattle shortfall triggers calls for Trump to guarantee medical supplies

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Via Financial Times

Politicians in Washington state are calling on the Trump administration to guarantee supplies of protective equipment to local doctors, as hospitals there warn they are fast running out thanks to the number of coronavirus cases.

Eight members of Congress and two senators have written to the US health secretary calling on him to step in, just hours after President Donald Trump told governors they should rely on the private market to buy the supplies they need.

The letter warns: “We remain deeply concerned that the current supply of PPE [personal protective equipment] is inadequate to meet the need for PPE in Washington state.”

Washington has been at the frontline of the US coronavirus outbreak, with 676 cases and 41 deaths as of Monday.

Earlier this month Seattle, the largest city in the state, requested an additional 450,000 pieces of protective equipment from the strategic national stockpile. This week some health centres in Washington state have been receiving protective equipment from Direct Relief, an international non-governmental organisation. 

In an email seen by the Financial Times, community health representatives in Washington warned this weekend: “Shipments are simply inadequate to the need . . . These supplies will be depleted this week. After that, our clinics will be faced with a, frankly, terrible choice: ask their providers to continue working without protection, or cease any Covid-related activity.”

According to the politicians’ letter, the Washington State Hospital Association is not getting the supplies of protective equipment it needs, while a rehabilitation centre in Richmond Beach only had a week’s worth of supplies left.

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The letter warns: “The lack of PPE endangers the health of people on the frontlines, including local health agencies, health workers and emergency personnel, and limits their ability to respond to those in need and to efficiently curtail the Covid-19 pandemic.”

While Washington is suffering some of the most acute shortages, other US states are also warning of problems. The California health department said it was experiencing shortages of N95 respirator masks in particular, and that it had placed orders for an additional 300,000.

Nursing homes have been particularly badly hit, partly because they do not normally need large stocks of protective equipment, and some suppliers are prioritising existing customers. 

Almost a third of long-term care facilities said they had no masks in their inventory, and 68 per cent said they had either limited or no way of getting more masks, according to a survey by Premier, an association representing more than 4,000 US healthcare organisations. 

A spokesperson for the US health department said: “The department takes all congressional inquiries very seriously and will respond in a timely fashion.”

Katie Smith Sloan, president of Leading Age, a non-profit organisation, said nursing homes had no way to report what their needs were. “They are having serious difficulties getting access to needed supplies right now,” she said.

Many states have requested additional supplies from the strategic national stockpile, which has so far shipped 135 tonnes of cargo as part of its coronavirus relief effort, including protective equipment for medical staff.

On Monday, however, Donald Trump, told state governors not to rely on that resource in the first instance. The US president said the federal government was ordering “tremendous numbers of ventilators and respirators” but added that it would be faster for governors to get ventilators “on their own”, through their usual supply chains.

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