“In all indications, the capacity of P.P.E. is lower than the demand,” said Prakash Mirchandani, the director of the Center for Supply Chain Management at the University of Pittsburgh, referring to personal protective equipment. “The total requirement of N95 masks, just for physicians and nurses, is about four to five billion units a year.”
The federal government does not release reports outlining each specific order placed under the Defense Production Act. But based on contracts that have been announced, interviews with experts who are tracking the distribution of medical supplies and interviews with advocates for medical workers’ needs, there is little evidence that the administration has made widespread use of the act to control the supply chain to combat the coronavirus.
“There have been myths that, at one point, all of a sudden, there was enough of a stockpile of protective equipment,” said Ms. Burger, who is a nurse at a hospital in Sonoma County, Calif. “But the honest truth is that if you talk to any nurse in the country, they have never had enough equipment.”
A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said it had awarded seven contracts for medical supplies under the Defense Production Act since the coronavirus pandemic began. But as cases surge across the country, the rate of infections has outpaced the production of protective gear, especially for N95 masks.
Under five of those contracts, the Defense Department paid three companies over $200 million to expand and retool factories to produce N95 masks in greater quantities — a process that takes months. The companies will not reach maximum production until late summer or fall.
A spokeswoman for 3M, a manufacturer of N95 masks that has received at least four contracts from the federal government under the act, said it had delivered 200 million N95 masks to U.S. hospitals, FEMA and the federal stockpile since the pandemic began.
But FEMA estimates that even in October, when it predicts that the United States will produce 180 million N95 masks a month, domestic production will not meet demand. Still, the last time the Defense Department issued a contract under the Defense Production Act to produce additional masks was in late May.