This video provided by the Department of Health and Human Services shows the nation's strategic stockpile of vital medical supplies at the outset of the pandemic — desperately ramping up as front-line workers shared they were going without even the most basic supplies.
"When we came into this administration, those cupboards were bare," then-President Donald Trump said during a visit to a medical supply distribution center in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Now, more than one year into the pandemic, Newsy has found the Strategic National Stockpile, or SNS, has significantly improved its readiness to respond not only to the coronavirus but to future threats.
Numbers provided to Newsy by HHS show the SNS now has 25 times more N95 masks and nine times more ventilators ready to deploy than it did at the start of the pandemic.
The number of surgical masks has increased from 31 million in January 2020 to over 270 million as of April 2. Likewise, the number of gloves has increased from 17 million to 275 million, and eye protection has jumped from 6 million to 18.9 million.
Experts say the pandemic has not only beefed up the inventory, it's also completely changed the way the stockpile functions. And that could help us to be better prepared for future pandemics.
"A big part of what we're seeing right now is a shift away from just let's put more things in the stockpile to let's really reimagine all of the ways in which we can use the stockpile partnership's strategic interventions and investments to make product available or have the flexibility to produce a product on the fly," said Nicolette Louissant, executive director and president of Healthcare Ready, a nonprofit that works on supply chain preparedness.
Over the last year, the SNS has evolved into a network of supply chains and connections with manufacturers like 3M, CVS pharmacy and GE that the U.S. can call upon to make supplies on the fly. It could help respond to everything —pandemics, terrorist attacks, natural disasters or biochemical warfare.
Former President Donald Trump began expanding the SNS in May 2020, signing an executive order to ensure it has at least 90 days worth of testing supplies, pharmaceuticals and other PPE needed to fight COVID-19.
This year, President Biden is continuing that effort, signing two executive orders aimed at shoring up critical supply chains.
The supply crisis appears to be winding down, for now. An HHS spokesperson told Newsy, "Demand for federal assistance to access PPE has decreased, so the SNS has not been directed to deploy significant PPE quantities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the past 60 days."
But experts like Nicolette Louissaint urge lawmakers not to forget how ill-prepared the government seemed at the outset of the pandemic. They say Congress should keep the money flowing to the SNS so America remains prepared for the worst.
"It's really about how are we going to fund the stockpile and fund strategies that create this type of flexibility and the elasticity, not just today and next year when COVID is fresh in our minds, but 10 years from now," she said.
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