As late as March 11, Donald Trump claimed that “nobody ever thought” the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic would become a “problem.” But on February 7, his administration appeared to understand the extent of the problem in China — sending 17.8 tons of badly-needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to that country.
Less than two months after that shipment, which was announced publicly by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as seen in the tweet included below, experts say that the United States now faces its own dangerous shortage of PPE and other medical supplies. This shortage is hampering health care workers’ efforts to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and slowing testing programs essential for identifying and containing the spread of the virus, according to an analysis by Vox.com.
On Sunday morning, 51 days after the State Department sent China the nearly 20-ton shipment of medical supplies, China began shipping medical supplies to the U.S. to help alleviate the crucial shortage.
According to a report by Axios.com, “a plane from Shanghai” arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on Sunday morning, carrying 130,000 protective N95 masks, as well as 1.7 million surgical masks, 12 million surgical gloves, 130,000 units of hand sanitizer and other medical supplies.
The Chinese shipment was described by Axios as “the most dramatic part of the Trump administration’s frantic attempts” to catch up with the medical supply shortage.
Similar planes full of supplies are scheduled to arrive daily over the next two weeks, with 22 such shipments already set, according to the Axios report.
The shortage of PPE is likely to lead to increased illnesses among health care workers, according to the Vox.com analysis. As a result, the already-stressed health care system will be able to handle fewer COVID-19 patients, as well as patients ill with other, more familiar ailments.
According to Vox.com reporter German Lopez, some hospitals have already considered issuing “do-not-resuscitate” orders for the most severely affected COVID-19 patients, to protect health care workers who lack the necessary protective equipment from infection — in effect, simply letting those patients die, due to the PPE shortage.
But even as his administration was shipping medical supplies to China in early February, Trump himself was publicly denying and downplaying the potential impact of the virus on the U.S.
As recently as March 10, the day before the World Health Organization officially designated the coronavirus outbreak a “pandemic,” Trump publicly declared that the outbreak “will go away,” and implored Americans to “just stay calm.”
On February 26, 19 days after the shipment, Trump declared that the U.S. had only 15 cases of COVID-19 infection — the actual, official number on that date was 60 — and that within days the total would be “close to zero.”
But as of Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics, the U.S. had more than 125,000 reported cases of COVID-19, and nearly 2,200 deaths.