COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The U.S. government is rushing protective equipment to states, packing flights and trucks with supplies for medical workers who will be on the front lines of the coronavirus fight.
Colorado has received 49,200 N95 masks, 115,000 surgical masks, 21,420 surgical gowns, 21,800 face shields, and 84 coveralls from the Strategic National Stockpile, according to the state health department.
The health department estimates these supplies are sufficient for about one full day of statewide operations.
The supplies will be distributed to county health departments and tribes throughout the state, based on the following criteria:
- county population
- portion of the population that is older than age 65 proportional to the state population
- the number of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals in the county
- if the county or tribe has received supplies previously
The health department said all counties and tribes in the state will receive some supplies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some of the Strategic National Stockpile’s shortcomings: The cache isn’t designed to be a long-term solution to monumental demand, and some state officials are complaining that the deliveries are falling far short of what’s needed or include expired items.
“We are relieved that we have finally received materials from the Strategic National Stockpile, but it’s not nearly enough,” Scott Bookman, COVID Incident Commander for the Colorado state health department, said in a statement. “We’re going to need more supplies and are grateful to all our partners across the state who are donating supplies and stepping up to help Colorado meet the demand.”
The stockpile was created in 1999 to respond to bombings and biological, chemical and nuclear attacks. It maintains caches of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and vaccines in secret locations around the nation.
It has never confronted anything on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first real use came in the anthrax-by-mail attacks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but it was the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that prompted the largest use to date, said Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University.
“The SNS as designed and funded cannot and will not be able to fully accommodate the needs of the entirety of the American people,” Nichols said. The system “is designed to help buy time” and prioritize areas of greatest need, he explained.
Health experts have previously estimated that national demand for masks could reach 300 million per month in a worst-case scenario.
The Department of Health and Human Services is trying to encourage production, saying it intends to buy 500 million N95 masks.