Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

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.

Why it matters: Polowczyk hears the calls from Congress, governors and medical equipment suppliers who want the federal government to nationalize the supply chain using the Defense Production Act — but he argues that's not the right move this far into the crisis.

  • "They want me to do all the buying, all the distributing, and all the allocation," he says.
  • But the nation's medical supply chain consists of six or seven major distributors with 600–700 distribution nodes around the country.
  • "I'm not going to re-create that," he said. "I'm looking to break down barriers ... to help them feed product where it needs to go."

What's happening: Instead, Polowczyk says, FEMA is collecting inventory data from all those companies and weaving disparate information systems together "to illuminate their supply chains down to their distribution networks and potentially down to the hospital level."

  • The priority now is New York and California, he said, but demand is increasing in places like Louisiana, Chicago, Detroit, Washington and Florida.

The big picture: With more than 150 countries affected by the global pandemic, worldwide demand for medical equipment is exploding, but supplies are limited and often hindered by virus-related shipping problems.

  • "The thought that we're going to buy our way out of this right now is not possible," Polowczyk says.

What he's saying: Polowczyk told Axios the crisis has to be managed on four fronts.

1. Preservation: Hospitals need to stretch existing supplies as much as possible.

  • That means health care workers will need to conserve and even reuse masks and other protective gear, following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • FEMA is working with hospitals to set up sterilization operations using UV light, bleach or heat treatments so that masks and gowns can be turned in, sanitized and reused. "Do I want that doctor to use a dirty mask? No, that's why we have to operationalize it."
  • That will require a "cultural flip for the medical community."
  • "Instead of treating it as a 70-cent disposable, treat it as a $100 mask and gown and face shield."

2. Acceleration: FEMA needs to assist by clearing bottlenecks and speeding deliveries.

  • The emergency airlifts that kicked off this week are one dramatic example, with a flight from Shanghai that arrived in New York this morning carrying supplies like gloves, N95 masks, surgical masks, gowns, hand sanitizer units and thermometers.
  • FEMA is also chasing leads, in the U.S. and overseas, to identify potential suppliers of protective gear, but not all can deliver. "For every 10 of those leads, maybe one pans out."
  • FEMA staffers also need to visit warehouses and open boxes "to make sure it's not sawdust."
  • Ventilator companies like GE Healthcare, Philips and Hamilton Medical already are sharply increasing production, as are Honeywell and 3M, which make respirator masks.

3. Expansion: New manufacturers need to step up to produce medical supplies.

  • The Trump administration already has enlisted help from the auto industry.
  • Many other companies have volunteered, but it takes time to figure out what they can produce or how they can partner with others.
  • FEMA is working with approximately 130 such leads, said Polowczyk. "Every one of those has a story."
  • Lining up new manufacturers will take several weeks or longer, he said. "You can't just make masks in volume in a matter of days."

4. Reallocation: FEMA needs a better understanding of what's available, where it is and where it needs to go.

  • "You can't run a supply chain without business IT and business intelligence," which is why Polowczyk is trying to merge all the data from distributors.

The bottom line: The shortages are daunting. But in Polowczyk's view, all four efforts "when combined together, should get us through this phase, this wave, of COVID-19."

Go deeper: Inside the start of the great virus airlift

Go deeper

Read: Former Vice President Walter Mondale's last message

Photo courtesy of Mondale.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale wrote a farewell letter to his staff, sent upon his death on Monday, thanking them for years working together.

Dear Team,

Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I Go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!

Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight.

Joe in the White House certainly helps.

I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!

My best to all of you!

Fritz

Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at 93

Walter Mondale, left, with former President Jimmy Carter in Jan. 2018 at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota's campus in Minneapolis. Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Walter Mondale, who transformed the role of U.S. vice president while serving under Jimmy Carter and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984, died Monday at 93, according to a family spokesperson.

The big picture: President Biden, who was mentored by Mondale through the years, said in 2015 that the former vice president gave him a "roadmap" to successfully take on the job.

Scoop: U.S. ambassador refuses Kremlin push to leave Russia

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The United States ambassador to Russia is refusing to leave the country after the Kremlin "advised" him to return home following new Biden administration sanctions, two sources briefed on the situation tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Sullivan, a respected diplomat who President Biden has, so far, retained from the Trump era, is at the center of one of the most important early tests of Biden's resolve.