President Trump may or may not use the Defense Protection Act to compel the production of personal protective equipment that provider groups say are needed by healthcare workers treating those with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), but other efforts are underway to bolster supplies, he and Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday.
During a press briefing the day before, Trump had said he planned to invoke the Defense Protection Act, and Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called on the president to use the powers of the act “immediately.”
Thursday, however, Trump clarified that he would do so only “if we were desperately in need of something.” “The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk,” he said. “The governors … are supposed to be doing it.”
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law Wednesday, Pence said on a video teleconference with state governors Thursday, extends liability protection to all industrial N95 masks so that the federal government, not manufacturers, will be liable if they do not protect workers. “So those can now be readily sold to your hospitals and healthcare providers,” he said.
Industrial and medical N95 masks provide the same level of protection, but they can differ in their design or fit, Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association, told the Washington Post. Also, masks for healthcare workers typically must be made on Food and Drug Administration-certified production lines, the media outlet said.
At the Thursday press briefing, the vice president said that when he visited 3M in Minnesota a few weeks ago, “we learned, of their production at that facility of 35 million masks a month, less than 5 million of those were qualified to be sold at hospitals.”
With passage of the legislation, companies such as 3M and Honeywell “have now greatly increased, by the tens of millions, their production of so-called N95 marks that will give our healthcare workers the protection that they need to minister to those that are dealing with the symptoms of the disease of coronavirus,” the vice president said.
“Honeywell alone is repurposing a factory that was destined for Mexico to produce another 120 million masks per year,” Pence said at the press briefing. 3M began increasing its output to 420 million masks per year in January, he added.
The vice president also told the governors that construction companies are a good source of N95 industrial masks, “and the president is urging all of those builders — and literally hundreds around the country have already done this — to donate those masks.”
White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Deborah Birx, M.D., said that construction companies also have donated booties and tieback suits.
When pressed for the status of additional help with personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, Trump said it was up to the states to provide assistance.
Executive Branch comments come as lawmakers discuss additional COVID-19-related legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Thursday he was introducing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to offer financial help to individuals, relief for small businesses and their employees, stabilization to the economy and jobs, and more support for healthcare professionals and the patients fighting the coronavirus.
Pelosi, however, said that the bill “is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers.”
More cases in senior living
The need for personal protective equipment continues as positive coronavirus tests and deaths are reported among senior living residents across the country. Recently, according to reports:
- A female resident of Bonaventure of Tri-Cities Independent Living, in Richland, WA, has died of the virus.
- A male resident of Benchmark Senior Living at Ridgefield Crossings in Connecticut has died of the disease.
- Nine residents of Lambeth House in New Orleans have tested positive, and 14 test results were pending as of Thursday. Four residents there have died of the virus.
- A resident of Texas Masonic Retirement Center in Arlington, TX, has died of the virus. All other residents are being tested.
- Seven new cases — including staff members and residents — have been identified at Showboat Retirement Center, an assisted living community in Lander, WY.
- Five residents at Atria Burlingame, Burlingame, CA, have tested positive for COVID-19, and results are pending for someone else.
- Five residents of a Carlton Senior Living independent living, assisted living and memory care community in Elk Grove, CA, have tested positive as of Thursday.
- Camellia at Deerwood, Jacksonville, FL, reported a fourth positive test on Wednesday. Test results are pending for another resident.
- “Several” members of the Peconic Landing retirement community had tested positive for coronavirus as of Thursday. Specific numbers were not available. At least two cases reportedly involve staff members, and another involves a per-diem worker.
- Bridge Park, a Holiday Retirement community in Seattle, had its third case confirmed Wednesday.
- Two more residents of OceanView at Falmouth retirement community in Falmouth, ME, have tested positive for COVID-19.
- At least two people have tested positive for COVID-19 at Evanston, IL, Three Crowns Park continuing care retirement community.
Additionally, according to reports, one case each was reported at Brighton Gardens of Florham Park, a Sunrise Senior Living community in Florham Park, NJ; Cape Cod Senior Residences, an independent living and assisted living community in Pocasset, MA; Five Star Church Creek, Arlington Heights, IL (staff member); The Kensington Falls Church, an assisted living and memory care facility in Falls Church, VA; St. James Place, a continuing care retirement community in Baton Rouge, LA; and Westminster Canterbury Richmond retirement community in Richmond, VA.