Mar 20, 2020 - Health

America's medical mask crisis

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Hospitals around the country are running out of medical masks and other protective gear, and health care workers are taking desperate steps to protect themselves from exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: Keeping doctors, nurses and other providers healthy and able to work is central to America's ability to manage the crush of patients expected to flood hospitals in coming days.

  • "If you can’t protect your health care workforce, you’re not going to have a health care workforce, and you’re not going to have a health care system," Harvard's Ashish Jha told me.

What's new: We've been sounding the alarm about medical masks for awhile, but this disaster scenario is becoming reality in some places, especially New York and Washington.

  • Hospitals are considering shutting their doors, doctors are seeing patients while wearing dangerously inadequate protective gear, and volunteers are cobbling together makeshift face shields, the New York Times reports.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted strategies for what to do without masks, including using bandanas and scarves — which have unknown utility.

What we're watching: President Trump has invoked the Defense Protection Act, which gives the federal government extraordinary manufacturing powers, but has yet to use it.

  • "We need the president to marshal the DPA, the Defense Production Act, to get all of these materials produced on a war-time footing quickly, dramatically, and in large number," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday.
  • Trump struck a different tone. "We have helped out, and there are right now millions of masks being made.  But this is really for the local governments, governors, and people within the state, depending on the way they divided it up," he said yesterday.

The bottom line: We're only at the beginning of our fight against the coronavirus, and our most important line of defense — health care workers — increasingly don't have the tools they need. That's not good.

Go deeper

The race to make more masks and ventilators

Fabric cutouts that will become masks are lined up at Xtreme Pro Apparel on March 23 in Broomfield, Colo. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

The U.S. is scouring the globe and leaning on non-medical manufacturers to help overcome shortages of ventilators, masks, gloves and gowns.

Why it matters: Nearly 90% of U.S. mayors who responded to a national survey on coronavirus preparedness said they lack sufficient tests kits, face masks and other protective equipment for their emergency responders and medical workers, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeperArrowMar 28, 2020 - Health

Fixing America's broken coronavirus supply chain

Polowczyk speaks at a coronavirus briefing at the White House, March 23. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The senior Navy officer now in charge of fixing America's coronavirus supply chain is trying to fill the most urgent needs: ventilators and personal protective gear. But barely a week into his role at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he's still trying to establish what's in the pipeline and where it is.

Driving the news: "Today, I, as leader of FEMA's supply chain task force, am blind to where all the product is," Rear Adm. John Polowczyk tells Axios.

Go deeperArrowMar 29, 2020 - Health

The coronavirus outbreak won't peak in every state at once

Data: IHME COVID-19 health service utilization forecasting team; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Although the coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S. in two weeks, many states will see their individual peaks well after that, according to a model by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Why it matters: States like Virginia and Maryland have more time to prepare for their systems to be maximally strained — if they make good use of that time.

Go deeperArrow7 hours ago - Health