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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congresswoman Cindy Axne (IA-03)

Over 75 House members urge work with trading partners to prioritize COVID-19 medical supplies in letter to U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer, Ambassador Branstad, and Department of Defense

Today, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Rep. Troy Balderson (OH-12) led a bipartisan letter to top U.S. trade officials, Department of Defense urging them to employ existing trade relationships to help prevent looming shortages of key medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) during the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In conversations with health experts and stakeholders in Iowa, Rep. Axne has heard concerns and seen estimates that PPE supplies in Iowa might only be sufficient for a week or less of continuing protection, depending on the escalating COVID-19 case load.

“I’ve heard concerns about shortages from local public health officials across Southwest Iowa. The possibility of our doctors, nurses, and other public health workers not having the protective equipment they need while tireless fighting this virus is simply unacceptable,” said Rep. Axne. “We’ve called on the Defense Department, our local producers, and the Trump Administration to do everything in their power to increase production – and it’s time also for our trade officials to seek partnerships overseas to keep supplies flowing into our hospitals and health clinics.”

“Ohio’s health workers such as doctors, nurses, and emergency care providers are on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus,” said Rep. Balderson. “To protect these workers as well as our communities, care providers need ample supply of protective equipment like gloves and masks, which is why I’ve called on the Defense Department and U.S. Trade Representative to leverage our trade partnerships to boost access to this vital equipment.”

The letter, which was signed by over 75 House members from both parties, cited conversations that many of the signing members have had with local public health stakeholders who are concerned about potential shortages of N95 masks, ventilators, gloves, gowns, shoe covers, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and other essential basic supplies to address this outbreak.

“Unfortunately, not enough PPE is domestically available for immediate use; despite the best efforts of industry and the Administration, we must turn to our international trading partners for a rapid response to the current pandemic,” the members wrote.

The letter was sent to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer, Assistant USTR for Japan, Korea, and APEC Michael Beeman, U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, and the Director of the Defense Logistics Agency, Lieutenant General Darrell Williams.

The full letter text can be found below:

Dear LTG. Williams, Ambassador Lighthizer, Ambassador Branstad, and Mr. Beeman,

Having spoken with hospitals, doctors, health care providers, and emergency management coordinators across our districts over the last week as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads, we have heard concerns that the United States will experience a dire shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if we do not act now.

Our health providers require PPE that includes N95 masks, ventilators, gloves, gowns, shoe covers, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and other essential basic supplies to address this outbreak. While we are glad to see the President has authorized the Defense Production Act and that the Department of Defense is providing 5 million respirators, we remain concerned that this will not provide enough supplies in time.

The urgent public health situation we find ourselves in has made clear the vulnerabilities resulting from our existing supply and sourcing structures.  That is why we are requesting you prioritize working with our trading partners to find essential medical equipment and PPE that is readily available and avoid placing any new red tape or restrictions on medical providers as they seek to obtain this equipment promptly from available sources. We continue to support American innovation in this space, including efforts to manufacture more PPE at home, to work with private industry to switch production to PPE wherever possible, and to encourage American innovators to develop new ways to address the shortage, such as creating new methods to safely and responsibly decontaminate PPE for reuse. Unfortunately, not enough PPE is domestically available for immediate use; despite the best efforts of industry and the Administration, we must turn to our international trading partners for a rapid response to the current pandemic. 

Additionally, we are committed to working within Congress and with the Administration on measures to improve our resilience and prevent this from happening in the future.

The limited supply of PPE available is hampering our ability to treat and respond to COVID-19 across the country. Proper equipment will ensure that we can transfer non-COVID-19 patients from hospitals, freeing up bed space. It will ensure that our health care workforce stays healthy and ready to respond. And it will bring peace of mind to every American to know we are better prepared to handle this outbreak.

Thank you for your assistance on this matter.

Representative Cindy Axne

Iowa’s Third Congressional District

Representative Troy Balderson

Ohio’s Twelfth Congressional District

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