The U.S. maintains a Strategic National Stockpile of critical medical supplies, which includes antibiotics, vaccines, ventilators and other essential equipment. One item that’s supposed to be ready to go is the N95 respirator used by medical personnel to protect themselves from airborne particles – a piece of equipment that has all but disappeared from the market in the wake of the coronavirus. But according to The Washington Post, the stockpile hasn’t replenished its supply of N95 masks since the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.
“With a limited annual budget of about $600 million, officials in charge of the stockpile focused on what they say was a more pressing priority: lifesaving drugs and equipment for diseases and disasters that emerged before the new coronavirus, for which there is no vaccine or specific anti-viral treatment,” the Post said Tuesday.
Gerrit Bakker of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, a group that pushed for a resupply of the masks, lamented the lack of attention to the N95 mask supply. “In hindsight, it appears to be shortsighted,” Bakker said.
The cupboard isn’t entirely bare, though. The stockpile has about 12 million N95 respirators and 30 million surgical masks on hand, the Department of Health and Human Services said last week. But that falls well short of the 3.5 billion masks the country is estimated to need in the case of a severe epidemic.