Resolute in the face of equipment shortages, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that it intends to purchase 500 million N95 respirators for the Strategic National Stockpile over the next 18 months.
N95 respirators are close-fitting, efficient systems that filter out airborne particles. They, unlike many masks, can help block things like the virus, which causes COVID-19.
The announcement followed a stark warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) over hoarding, price gouging, and shortages affecting the world’s supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a call for an increase to manufacturing. The HHS announcement is a part of the larger U.S. response to COVID-19. Through guaranteed orders, it hopes to provide manufacturers enough reassurance to immediately increase their production of N95s meant for health care professionals.
With such orders in hand, it would mean that even if private sector orders were canceled following an abrupt end to the novel coronavirus epidemic, manufacturers would still have somewhere to sell any excess supplies. Private orders would still take precedence.
Further, the HHS has assured the public that it already holds millions of N95 respirators within the Strategic National Stockpile for use, if necessary. All of these respirators could be dispersed to areas in need during times of emergency. Under an emergency use authorization issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, health care personnel could use certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved respirators during the COVID-19 outbreak.
So far, no proposals or contracts for respirators have been received or executed.