It’s hardly a secret that officials have failed to adequately respond to and prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic. Now—as if the United States is in any position to decline resources to help prevent the spread of the virus—the federal government is refusing a type of mask hospitals could use to protect doctors and nurses, according to BuzzFeed News.
Tom Inglesby, a public health director at Johns Hopkins University, warned a Senate committee in 2018 that the country needed to prepare for worst-case public health scenarios. “The nation is not ready to provide medical care in large catastrophes or big epidemics of contagious disease,” he said. “There is no surge plan for taking care of larger numbers of patients with contagious, potentially lethal infectious diseases.”
Still, lawmakers only approved a fraction of spending public health experts advocated for in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act, according to Politico. Health experts recommended at least $820 million for public health grants and $470 million for preparing hospitals, but legislators approved $675 million for the grants and $275 million to prepare hospitals, Politico reported.
“We’re the richest country in the world and, in many ways, we were caught with our pants down,” Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly told the political news site. “If we had had more money, we would have been more prepared today. We would have gotten up to speed faster.”
Instead, governors beg residents to stay home because they fear overburdening local hospitals that are already facing a shortage of protective masks, ventilators, and other supplies. More than 2,500 coronavirus patients have died in the United States, and the country could experience 100,000 more deaths, White House task force member and the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on Sunday in a media address.
In addition to the already grim circumstances, government regulators are still dragging their feet to approve a much-needed medical supply to fight the spread of COVID-19. That supply is masks. The KN95 mask, in particular, is China’s substitute to a commonly used mask in the pandemic that is in short supply, the N95 mask. Both masks fit snuggly around the mouth and nose. Both filter out at least 95% of fragments that are 0.3 microns or larger, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed both acceptable by agency standards, BuzzFeed reported. The difference between the two masks is that the KN95 is not made in factories with a U.S. government stamp of approval.
So while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a list of authorized non-N95 respirators, the KN95 mask was not on it. The government agency concluded: “There is no adequate, approved, and available alternative to the emergency use of the certain respirators for preventing HCP exposure to such particulates during FFR shortages to prevent disease spread.”
Vernessa Pollard, an attorney who focuses on FDA law, told Buzzfeed News she believes the FDA is looking at scientific data to decide whether KN95 masks were of comparable quality to the N95. “My belief is the FDA is looking at the KN95 to be allowed to be imported,” Pollard told the news site. “It’s science-based. I don’t believe there is anything political at all.”
Bob Tilton owns a cosmetics packaging importer based in New Jersey, and he decided to bring masks and other protective supplies to sell to hospitals. “The KN95 masks are far more readily available,” Tilton told BuzzFeed News. “The N95s are much harder to grab.” Byron Walker, the owner of a web store for survival gear, could attest to that. He told BuzzFeed he could’ve gotten at least twice as many KN95 masks than the 60,000 N95 masks he is providing Colorado agencies. “It seems like this is happening for political reasons,” he said.
There is, however, no justifiable reason why government officials shouldn’t have been better prepared for this pandemic after facing the Ebola epidemic just three years earlier. “We have a tendency to do this,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Politico. “When something happens, we throw a lot of money at it, but then we walk away. If we did that with the military, we’d be in terrible shape. But, somehow, we are fine doing that with public health.”
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