A high-ranking federal official in late February warned that the United States needed to plan for not having enough personal protective equipment for medical workers as they began to battle the novel coronavirus, according to internal emails obtained by Kaiser Health News.
The messages provide a sharp contrast to President Donald Trump’s statements at the time that the threat the coronavirus posed to the American public remained “very low.” In fact, concerns were already mounting, the emails show, that medical workers and first responders would not have enough masks, gloves, face shields and other supplies, known as PPE, to protect themselves against infection when treating COVID-19 patients.
The emails, part of a lengthy chain titled “Red Dawn Breaking Bad,” includes senior officials across the Department of Veterans Affairs, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as outside academics and some state health officials. KHN obtained the correspondence through a public records request in King County, Washington, where officials struggled as the virus set upon a nursing home in the Seattle area, eventually killing 37 people. It was the scene of the first major outbreak in the nation.
“We should plan assuming we won’t have enough PPE — so need to change the battlefield and how we envision or even define the front lines,” Dr. Carter Mecher, a physician and senior medical adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs, wrote on Feb. 25. It would be weeks before front-line health workers would take to social media with the hashtag #GetMePPE and before health systems would appeal to the public to donate protective gear.
In the email, Mecher said confirmed-positive patients should be categorized under two groups with different care models for each: those with mild symptoms should be encouraged to stay home under self-isolation, while more serious patients should go to hospital emergency rooms.
“The demand is rising and there is no guarantee that we can continue with the supply since the supply-chain has been disrupted,” Eva Lee, director of the Center for Operations Research in Medicine and HealthCare at Georgia Tech and a former health scientist at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, wrote that same day citing shortages of personal protective equipment and medical supplies. “I do not know if we have enough resources to protect all frontline providers.”
Reached on Saturday, Lee said she isn’t sure who saw the message trail but “what I want is that we take action because at the end of the day we need to save patients and health care workers.”
Mecher, also reached Saturday, said the emails were an “an informal group of us who have known each other for years exchanging information.” He said concerns aired at the time on medical protective gear were top of mind for most people in health care. More than 35 people were on the email chain, many of them high-ranking government officials.
The same day Mecher and others raised the concern in the messages, Trump made remarks to a business roundtable group in New Delhi, India.
“We think we’re in very good shape in the United States,” he said, noting that the U.S. closed the borders to some areas. “Let’s just say we’re fortunate so far. And we think it’s going to remain that way.”
The White House declined to comment. In a statement, VA press secretary Christina Mandreucci said, “All VA facilities are equipped with essential items and supplies to handle additional coronavirus cases, and the department is continually monitoring the status of those items to ensure a robust supply chain.”
Doctors and other front-line medical workers in the weeks since have escalated concerns about shortages of medical gear, voicing alarm about the need to protect themselves, their families and patients against COVID-19, which as of Saturday evening had sickened more than 121,000 in the United States and killed at least 2,000.
As Mecher and others sent emails about growing PPE concerns, HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified to lawmakers that the U.S. had 30 million N95 respirator masks stockpiled but needed 300 million to combat the outbreak. Some senior U.S. government officials were also warning the public to not buy masks for themselves to conserve the supply for health care providers.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted on Feb. 29: “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Still, on Feb. 27, the FDA in a statement said that officials were not aware of widespread shortages of equipment.
“We are aware of reports from CDC and other U.S. partners of increased ordering of a range of human medical products through distributors as some healthcare facilities in the U.S. are preparing for potential needs if the outbreak becomes severe,” the agency said.
Simultaneously, Trump downplayed the risk of the novel coronavirus to the American public even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was warning it was only a matter of time before it would spread across the country. On Feb. 29, the CDC also updated its strategies for health workers to optimize supplies of N95 masks.
An HHS spokesperson said Saturday the department has been in “an all-out effort to mobilize America’s capacity” for personal protective equipment and other supplies, including allowing the use of industrial N95 respirators in health care settings and awarding contracts to several private manufacturers to buy roughly 600 million masks over the next 18 months.
“Health care supply chains are private-sector-driven,” the spokesperson said. “The federal role is to support that work, coordinate information across the industry and with state or local agencies if needed during emergencies, and drive manufacturing demand as best we can.”
The emails from King County officials and others in Washington state also show growing concern about the exposure of health care workers to the virus, as well as a view into local officials’ attempts to get help from the CDC.
In one instance, local medical leaders were alarmed that paramedics and other emergency personnel were possibly exposed after encountering confirmed-positive patients at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Seattle-area nursing home where roughly three dozen people have died because of the virus.
“We are having a very serious challenge related to hospital exposures and impact on the health care system,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, the public health officer for Seattle and King County, wrote in a different email to CDC officials March 1. Duchin pleaded for a field team to test exposed health care workers and additional support.
Duchin’s email came hours after a physician at UW Medicine wrote about being “very concerned” about exposed workers at multiple hospitals and their attempts to isolate infected workers.
“I suspect that we will not be able to follow current CDC [recommendations] for exposed HCWs [health care workers] either,” wrote Dr. John Lynch, medical director of employee health for Harborview Medical Center and associate professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington. “As you migh [sic] imagine, I am very concerned about the hospitals at this point.”
Those concerns have been underscored with an unusual weekend statement from Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, which represents doctors, calling on Saturday for more coordination of needed medical supplies.
“At this critical moment, a unified effort is urgently needed to identify gaps in the supply of and lack of access to PPE necessary to fight COVID-19,” the statement says. “Physicians stand ready to provide urgent medical care on the front lines in a pandemic crisis. But their need for protective gear is equally urgent and necessary.”
Image via Shutterstock
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Watch: Fox News’ Peter Doocy Admits There Are Republicans ‘That Don’t Agree With Voting Rights’
“As you talked about a year ago and working with Republicans, now [President Biden] is talking about Republicans that don’t agree with voting rights,” Doocy complained, “he’s describing them as George Wallace, Bull Connor, and Jefferson Davis. What happened to the guy who, when he was elected said: ‘To make progress me must stop treating our opponents as our enemy’?”
Doocy was referring to President Joe Biden’s widely praised speech in support of voting rights earlier this week, referencing civil rights icons and their infamous white supremacist and segregationist opponents.
“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” Biden asked, to the anger of many conservatives. “Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”
Psaki as usual was prepared to respond – suggesting Doocy was not “speaking on the level.”
“I think everybody listening to that speech, who’s speaking on the level, as my mother would say, would note that he was not comparing them as humans. He was comparing the choice to those figures in history and where they’re going to position themselves, if they as it – as they determine whether they’re going to support the fundamental right to vote or not.”
Fox News’ Peter Doocy admits there are “Republicans that don’t agree with voting rights.”pic.twitter.com/Bmhr5zZvuh
— David Badash (@davidbadash) January 14, 2022
‘This Is Insane’: Republican Blasts RNC for Saying GOP Candidates Must Agree to Ban on Presidential Debates
For nearly four decades the Commission on Presidential Debates has managed and organized every presidential debate, but the Republican National Committee has just announced it will ban any GOP candidate from participating in any debate the Commission holds.
The New York Times reports the RNC is preparing to require any GOP candidate seeking that party’s nomination for President to “sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois weighed in Thursday afternoon.
“This is insane,” he said on Twitter. “Why,” he asked.
The Commission on Presidential Debates is a bipartisan nonprofit created jointly by the chairs of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in 1987, and has run every debate held since.
But first candidate and then President Donald Trump has railed against the Commission, refusing to participate during the second presidential debate because it was going to be held virtually, because of the coronavirus pandemic. He and his officials have also accused the Commission of being unfair and biased against him.
The RNC appears to be preparing for another Trump run. It is still engaged in a multi-million dollar fundraising agreement with the former President, including paying some of his legal bills.
Kayleigh McEnany Meets With January 6 Committee: CNN
Former Trump White House and campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has appeared before the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack.
CNN reports the meeting took place virtually.
McEnany, now a Fox News contributor, was one of ten former Trump officials “with close ties to the former president” subpoenaed by the Committee two months ago, on November 9.
According to a press release from the Committee, McEnany “made multiple public statements from the White House and elsewhere about purported fraud in the November 2020 election. For example, in the first White House press conference after the election, Ms. McEnany claimed that there were ‘very real claims’ of fraud that the former President’s reelection campaign was pursuing, and said that mail-in voting was something that ‘we have identified as being particularly prone to fraud.’ At another press conference, Ms. McEnany accused Democrats of ‘welcoming fraud’ and ‘welcoming illegal voting.’ In addition, Ms. McEnany was reportedly present at times with the former President as he watched the January 6th attack.”
This is a breaking news and developing story.
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