Coronavirus stokes supply shortage concerns in over 85% of US providers

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 04, 2020
Business Affairs Risk Management
N95 masks and other personal protective equipment are in short supply due to increased demand for supplies fueled by the ongoing coronavirus epidemic
More than 85 percent of U.S. health systems and hospitals have raised concerns about their supplies of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in the face of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.

“What’s key is that the providers who ultimately care for patients with coronavirus and other infectious diseases have the supplies on hand to protect their healthcare workers,” Soumi Saha, senior director of advocacy at Premier, which conducted the survey, told HCB News. “The CDC is emphasizing that providers need masks to protect healthcare workers and not the public, unless they have a confirmed or suspected case.”

Hospitals and health systems across the U.S. typically spend $22 million on N95 face masks annually. Demand, however, skyrocketed in January and February by 400 and 585 percent, respectively, due to the heavy flu season and anticipation of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. These levels of demand suggest a minimum consumption rate of 56 million masks this year, nearly threefold the demand of a typical year, according to Premier.

The World Health Organization declared the virus a "global health emergency" and reported this week that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply chain of personal protective equipment — fueled by rising demand, hoarding, misuse and panic buying — is putting lives at risk of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases. As a result, it has called on manufacturers to increase production by 40 percent to meet global demands.

Exacerbating the problem is the shutdown of product exports from China, Taiwan, Thailand, India and South Korea, all of which help make Asia home to about 80 percent of all PPE manufacturing globally. The suspensions in exports are expected to continue through April, if not longer.

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a statement. “Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first.”

The FDA and CDC have also taken action by allowing industrial respirators — including certain N95s — approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health but not currently regulated by the FDA to be used by healthcare personnel during the outbreak to combat shortages.

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