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Cartwright Calls for Urgent Action to Prevent Protective Medical Equipment Shortages as Fight Against COVID19 Continues

Mar 21, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (PA-08) has joined several of his Democratic and Republican colleagues in calling for urgent action to bolster the U.S. supply of medical personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep doctors and first responders safe as they fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

“If we don’t act now, the brave medical professionals and first responders fighting this outbreak could soon be defenseless against this new disease,” said Rep. Cartwright. “We need to keep them healthy if we’re going to stop the spread of COVID-19. We can protect our frontline health care workers by moving quickly to boost funding for local emergency responders, and opening up new supply lines of protective equipment from abroad.”

As the COVID-19 infection rate continues to rise, physicians and health care workers have sounded the alarm on shortages of PPE. Around the nation, these frontline health care workers have warned of the risks that such shortages pose not just to themselves and their families, but also to broader efforts to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Cartwright is part of a coalition of Democrats and Republicans calling for robust funding for Emergency Assistance to Firefighter (AFG) grants as well as Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants to ensure first responders can continue to operate at full capacity. That letter is linked here and can be viewed below. Cartwright has also engaged the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the U.S. Ambassador to China and the Defense Logistics Agency to urge them to coordinate with our international trading partners and bring additional medical supplies from abroad. That letter can also be viewed below or online here.

Text of the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy:

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:

As Congress considers further legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to include support for our nation’s first responders, especially fire and emergency medical services (EMS), who are serving on the frontlines of this outbreak. First responders are routinely in physical contact with potentially infected persons as pre-hospital health care providers. During this public health emergency, the continued work and support of our first responders is vital.

We understand firefighters and paramedics across the country are in short supply of the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to guard against disease exposure.[1] First responders access to PPE, particularly N95 respirators, helps limit spread of the disease and ensures our nation’s first responders remain healthy so they can continue to serve our communities. We urge you to bolster resources for fire and EMS departments so they can access PPE by increasing funding for emergency Assistance to Firefighter (AFG) grants and prioritizing delivery of these resources through the national strategic stockpile.

Fire and EMS personnel work in one of the highest risk occupations for COVID-19 exposure. However, first responders have faced severe testing shortages.[2] A dearth of testing has led many first responders to self-isolate or quarantine. This has left departments with staffing gaps that must be backfilled, often with increased use of overtime. Fire and EMS departments must be fully equipped to respond emergencies. We urge you increase funding for emergency Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants and direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to expeditiously disperse federal funds to departments in need. To ensure grant recipients can use SAFER grants for costs related current employee needs and overtime, we urge including language mandating the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to grant waivers to SAFER recipients for the ability to use funds for overtime, backfill needs, and employee retention in addition to hiring.

During a time of crisis, it is necessary communities can continue to rely on local first responders for protection and emergency response. Congress must ensure fire and EMS departments have access to PPE, testing, and receive much-needed staffing support so that our nation’s first responders can operate at full capacity as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Text of the letter 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:

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.

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