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Healthcare Mask Shortage Continues, But White House Order May Help

Debora Cartagena, USCDCP
Three types of respirators, including an N95 mask.

As American health care workers prepare for the coming waves of COVID-19 patients, the shortage of protective equipment like masks is becoming increasingly worrying.

"These masks are really essential to how we do our jobs," said Dr. Charisma Kaushik, an emergency room physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

The shortage is due to supply chain and production issues, as well as the public stockpiling masks for their personal use. Without protective gear, front line health workers face a confounding dilemma.


"Knowing you're going to work and you'll sometimes have to choose between sacrificing your own health potentially versus trying to save someone who really needs it," said Dr. Kaushik.

Since those with COVID-19 can remain asymptomatic for weeks, this creates another problem. The more doctors and nurses who become infected, the more likely it is that non-coronavirus patients will also catch the virus… and on it goes.


On Wednesday, the White House made a move that may provide some help. President Trump enacted something called the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law aiming to boost private industry production of supplies needed for the health crisis. While originally intended for wartime production, the law would let the White House require companies to prioritize urgently needed medical supplies, like masks, ventilators, gloves and eye protectors.


It’s unclear how exactly the government will use these powers, or when the supply of these items will start to catch up.