On Sunday US President Donald Trump announced he was going to once again call on companies to massively increase production of essential equipment which will allow testing for COVID-19 to be ramped-up substantially. Ubiquitous testing is an essential component of getting the economy back on track and people back to work, but at the moment testing is falling seriously short of need.
The President announced that he would call on one particular company to increase its production of test swabs to a staggering 20 million each month.
“We are calling in the Defense Production Act,” Mr. Trump said, adding “You’ll have so many swabs you won’t know what to do with them.”
Details about what company would be compelled to step up production, and when he would invoke the DPA were not stated.
“We already have millions coming in,” Trump said. “In all fairness, governors could get them themselves. But we are going to do it. We’ll work with the governors and if they can’t do it, we’ll do it.”
Public health experts have warned that testing will need to increase by double or triple from present rates to even open the economy slightly. Business leaders have in turn explained this to the President at a conference call they held with Trump last week.
As of mid- to late- April about 150,000 diagnostic tests for COVID-19 were done daily in the USA. Harvard researchers estimated that it will not be possible to ease social isolation restrictions and begin the economic recovery until the country can perform closer to 300,000—450,000 daily tests.
President Donald Trump called into play what is known as the Defense Production Act in order to confront the ever-worsening coronavirus pandemic with increased production of desperately needed personal protective equipment (PPEs). This act requires private industry to re-purpose their factories and to greatly step-up production for the singular effort of producing the needed supplies to properly face the deadly pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the country, especially in New York City.
One such manufacturer is 3M, the world’s largest producer of respirator masks. One day after President Trump invoked the DPA 3M said it is ready and willing to comply with the order to supply more N95 masks for the US. They added, however, that they will not stop exporting masks to other countries that also desperately need them. 3M released the following statement:
“3M and its employees have gone above and beyond to manufacture as many N95 respirators as possible for the US market.”
The DPA also requires that companies supply the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with the equipment ordered by the agency. 3M said it is working closely with FEMA to supply the requested masks while at the same time enlarging the number of masks it is importing into the US from its offshore factories, including from China.
The company said that it must continue to supply masks to Canada and Latin America, despite the administration’s additional request to halt the sale of US-made respirators to countries other than the USA.
A statement from 3M explained that:
“There are significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators,” the statement said. Ceasing delivery of masks to these countries would “likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same.”
The company warned that retaliation on the part of other countries would most certainly lead to the total number of respirators available for use in the US to decrease.
“That is the opposite of what we and the administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek,” 3M said.