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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Experts and lawmakers are beginning to call for extraordinary measures to alleviate medical shortages that could cripple the U.S. response to the coronavirus.

Why it matters: These shortages affect both testing and treatment, and if they persist, could also thin the ranks of health care workers able to help treat coronavirus patients. And the only solution may be for the federal government to get involved.

Driving the news: Invoking the Defense Production Act was on a list of options included in a 100-page federal government coronavirus response plan, dated from Friday, reported on by the New York Times last night.

  • The law, passed in 1950, gives the president enormous power to force American manufacturers to produce critical supplies.

What they're saying: Some lawmakers at the federal and local level had already called for the federal government to increase its manufacturing capacity.

  • Mark Levin, chair of the New York City Council's health committee, tweeted yesterday that he's "BEGGING, PLEADING that the fed gov't mobilize production and distribution of medical supplies and equipment."
  • "I urge you to immediately exercise the powers authorized to you by the Defense Production Act (DPA) in order to address impending shortages of critical resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Sen. Bob Mendendez wrote in a letter to President Trump yesterday.

Where it stands: The U.S. is likely to face several key shortages in even a moderate outbreak.

  • Labs will need more of some key ingredients for diagnostic tests, including RNA-extraction kits, reagents and swabs. Staying on top of testing is essential to ultimately controlling the outbreak.
  • States are already sounding the alarm over inadequate supplies of protective gear, such as masks, gloves and gowns, for health care workers.
  • "If we run out of those, we’re hosed. Because then doctors and nurses are going to have a choice between not caring for a sick patient, and putting themselves at risk," said Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard's Global Health Institute.
  • Ventilators to help patients breathe are also in short supply. We have about 62,000, and only a limited ability to tap other supplies.

Doctors in Italy are making difficult decisions every day about how to ration their limited supply of ventilators, the WSJ reports.

The Food and Drug Administration "is in close contact with [personal protective equipment] manufacturers to understand their supply capabilities during this outbreak. We have heard about challenges throughout the supply chain that are presently impacting the availability of PPE products, however, we are taking steps to mitigate shortages that healthcare facilities are already experiencing," the agency said in a statement.

The bottom line: “The worst case scenario in that case is we produce a lot of stuff we don’t end up needing...if we don’t do it, we have a lot of people who die unnecessarily," Jha said.

Go deeper

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

3 hours ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

4 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.