Calls grow for Trump administration to aid in PPE production amid shortage

(CNN) - As coronavirus cases surge across the country, doctors and nurses say they don't have enough personal protective equipment and masks are in especially short supply.

Critics say the Trump administration could do more to help.

Judith Laguerre, a nurse at a Massachusetts hospital, recycles through three facemasks at work, disinfecting them on her dashboard.

“The sun will hit the mask and we’ll leave them there for a few days and then use them again,” Laguerre said.

Across the country, nurses, doctors and some state health officials say the lack of personal protective equipment is their most dangerous challenge. N95 masks are the toughest to find.

“This is something that we were talking about four months ago,” said Patrice Harris, former president of the American Medical Association.

AMA has been begging the federal government “to direct the manufacture, acquisition and distribution of PPE.”

This month, a Democratic congressional House oversight committee concluded a lack of leadership from the Trump administration is “forcing state and local governments, hospitals, and others to compete for scarce supplies.”

The National Nurses United union just endorsed Joe Biden because of what it calls Trump's "abandonment of public health and safety."

“It’s not just N95s, it’s everything,” union president Jean Ross said. “We really need the president to fully invoke the Defense Production Act so he can mass produce the things that will keep us safe. And to this point, he has refused to do so.”

The Department of Health and Human Services disputes that account, telling CNN it “has moved with deliberate and determined speed to ensure we secured supplies and equipment needed by frontline U.S. healthcare workers.”

HHS listed 19 companies that have received orders under the Defense Production Act to acquire emergency supplies, including 600 million N95 masks. However, only half of the masks ordered will be delivered by the end of this year.

Experts say it's not enough and it started far too late.

“This is going to be a really serious, serious and persistent challenge for the United States for several months if not longer,” said Kelly Magasmen, former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

Magasmen, a Pentagon official under former President Barack Obama, says the Trump administration hasn't used the full power of the Defense Production Act.

“The administration listened a little bit too much to corporate interests early on in the crisis,” Magasmen said. “The DPA was not used early enough nor aggressively enough to put us in a position to get the kind of equipment and PPE we need in time.”

Some major hospitals say they are making their own deals to buy scarce supplies at exorbitant prices, and some are even stockpiling PPE.

However, smaller hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices are left out of the supply chain, which jeopardizes even routine medical care, according to the AMA.

“A few months ago, we’re in this really dire, urgent situation and our hope was that that situation would change and improve, Dr. Shikha Gupta said. “And it’s really unfortunate that here we are in the middle of July, and things look more or less the same as they did in mid-March.”

Early in the pandemic, Gupta helped start the organization to try and fill the shortages of PPE in places where healthcare workers were going without.

Today she says her group has 13,000 requests but they can only fill 10%.

“It shouldn’t be seen in the United States. We had the opportunity to do a better job preparing ourselves and preparing the people that we’re trusting to care for COVID patients. And we didn’t do that. We really fell short as a country,” Gupta said.

According to a medical supply chain expert, the PPE shortage may get worse in the weeks and months to come as school systems enter the market, trying to get protective gear so they can reopen.

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