PPE Shortages Return. Will Trump Invoke the DPA Again?
In April 2020, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA), forcing several big-name manufacturers to shift their production lines to begin producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for those on the front lines of COVID-19. As cases declined, PPE became more readily available and shortages were met with surplus. But now, as cases rise in dramatic fashion and a new wave hits hospitals, the call for PPE is growing louder once again.
It begs the question: will Trump need to call on the DPA again to rapidly ramp up PPE production to meet demand?
COVID-19 concerns persist
The call for more PPE echoes a sudden and dramatic rise in cases across the country. Although coronavirus cases were on the downtrend for most of May, June saw the curve reverse and begin to climb. The 7-day moving average for new cases on May 1 was just over 29,500. That number fell to just over 20,700 by May 31, indicating the effectiveness of state and local lockdowns. But, as states began reopening in June, cases rose aggressively. By July 1, the 7-day moving average was at an all-time high: 52,300 new cases daily.
Since then, we’ve breached 60,000 new daily cases and set six new single-day records in the first 10 days of July. States like Florida, Arizona, and Texas have the highest infection rates in the world. Hospitals in these areas are rapidly approaching capacity, which means more staff working around the clock to treat patients and mitigate virus spread. To do this, they need PPE.
Is the head start on production enough?
The original PPE shortage was largely attributed to the suddenness of the pandemic. Rapid onset of severe cases pushed hospitals to their limits and the unknown nature of the virus delineated a run on PPE from local and state stockpiles. But now, half a year into the pandemic with two injunctions of the DPA behind us, producers are churning out PPE at peak rates. But is that fast enough?
If current infection rates continue to progress at the same rate, experts say no. Hospitals will burn through PPE quicker than it can be produced and distributed. Many analysts are calling for another enactment of the DPA to preemptively meet this surging demand.
Will Trump enact the DPA for a third time?
Despite calls to invoke the DPA, it’s unlikely the president will authorize it for the third time. His reluctance to do so the first two times casts doubt on a third initiative. Instead, the Trump administration has charged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with distribution of PPE from manufacturers and the national stockpile. The administration has cited the responsibility of individual states to request and coordinate PPE, as needed, from FEMA.
The president’s critics have cited this approach as ineffective and harmful, pointing to the lack of federal oversight as a hindrance for sourcing PPE. Their calls for the DPA are backed by a desire to avoid another dearth of PPE in states where hospitals will soon reach capacity. Proponents of the DPA point to its effectiveness earlier in the pandemic and call for its use to prevent those same challenges faced earlier.
Whether the president invokes the DPA again is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that need for PPE is rising and is unlikely to taper off anytime soon as the pandemic surges on.