As the stock market tanked on new and expanding reports about what appears to be a growing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in the United States, advisers to President Donald Trump urged him on Thursday to take more drastic measures in order to better prepare the country.
With a shortage of virus test kits, masks, respirators and other protective gear, Trump is being pressured to invoke the Defense Production Act, a law passed at the outset of the Korean War in 1950 to quickly ramp up production of military equipment and to prevent domestic industries from balking.
The use of the law, passed by Congress in 1950 at the outset of the Korean War, would mark an escalation of the administration’s response to the outbreak. The virus first surfaced in China and has since spread to other countries including the United States.
U.S. health officials have told Americans to begin preparing for the spread of the virus in the United States.
Under the law, President Trump has the power to rapidly expand industrial production of important materials and products for national security and other reasons. The U.S. corporations that produce the most face masks include 3M Corp and Honeywell International Inc.
Earlier this week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers that the U.S. would require a stockpile of some 300 million N95 face masks — devices that protect the respiratory system — for medical workers alone. Right now, Azar said, the U.S. only has a small fraction of masks currently available for immediate deployment and use.
Officials from HHS and the Department of Homeland Security said during an interagency conference call Wednesday that it is possible for President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act so he can order the manufacture of “personal protective equipment” used to prevent spread of the virus, a DHS official told Reuters.
Protective equipment would also include body suits, masks and gloves.
Interestingly, Azar noted during a congressional hearing this week that China, which the U.S. has been trading tariffs with, controls “a lot of the raw materials as well as the manufacturing capacity” to make face masks — another reason why the president needs to rebalance trade with Beijing but which is obviously a much more long-term issue. (Related: SHOCK: Leaked documents reveal Wuhan coronavirus infections up to 52 times HIGHER than official Chinese figures.)
“Very little of this stuff is apparently made in the (United) States, so if we’re down to domestic capability to produce, it could get tough,” the DHS official told Reuters.
Reuters quoted an unnamed White House official who did confirm that the president was giving invocation of the law some serious thought in order to begin mass producing protective gear.
“Let’s say ‘Company A’ makes a multitude of respiratory masks but they spend 80% of their assembly lines on masks that painters wear and only 20% on the N95,” the White House official said. “We will have the ability to tell corporations, ‘No, you change your production line so it is now 80% of the N95 masks and 20% of the other.’”
“It allows you to basically direct things happening that need to get done,” the official added.
Still, on Thursday, as he said during his nationwide address Wednesday night, President Trump maintained that the risk of the virus spreading throughout the country to infect significant numbers of people remained “very low.”
He did add that federal officials are, nevertheless, preparing for a worst-case scenario, which makes sense because it’s only prudent to do so.
That said, several Democrats are already claiming that it’s ‘too late.’
As The National Sentinel reported, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday she hoped there was still time to react.
“Hopefully we can make up for the loss of time…and not be using scare tactics about people coming back to our country,” she said, an apparent off-handed criticism of the president’s decision earlier to put a travel restriction in place on people coming from China.