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Fauci: Reopening early could have 'really serious' consequences
03:08 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

As the US moves to reopen, some states are doubling down on efforts to manufacture supplies domestically, concerned that a possible second wave of the virus could paralyze the supply chain again in the future.

“It would certainly behoove us to be more independent,” said Perry Plummer, assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Safety. “That’s what this has taught us, to be more independent.”

Over the course of the coronavirus outbreak, growing demand for limited, but critical, medical supplies left states scrambling to obtain enough equipment – many of it manufactured abroad – to protect against the spread of the virus and treat patients who had fallen ill. To avoid that happening again, some states are trying to bolster manufacturing in the US in hopes of becoming slightly less dependent on the international market.

Mark Ghilarducci, the director of California’s Office of Emergency Services, told the California State Assembly committee in a hearing Monday that the state is working with companies, like Oakley, which transitioned from making sunglasses to face shields, to shore up supplies.

“The governor did bring together a consortium of business leaders and organizations. We’ve got web portals, our office of non-governmental and private sector coordination has been reaching out to all these folks, and we’ve got thousands of ideas,” Ghilarducci said.

California recently ran into issues ordering from the private market, announcing last week that the state will be refunded $247 million it paid to a Chinese firm to deliver 200 million N95 respirator masks under a secretive contract that had not been disclosed to the public.

President Donald Trump left much of the responsibility of acquiring supplies to the states. In recognition of the supply shortages and urgent needs, though, the administration launched efforts, like expediting the arrival of equipment from overseas, and tapped major companies, including 3M, to help narrow the gap.

But the administration is also thinking about what could happen in the event of another outbreak.

“As part of the whole-of-America response, (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is working with the White House Task Force, HHS and other interagency partners to sustain the federal response should additional waves of COVID-19 occur,” a FEMA spokesperson said in a statement.

“As FEMA took the lead in the whole-of-America coronavirus pandemic response, both the Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) worked quickly to collect and share early best practices and lessons learned,” the statement continued.

One lesson learned, according to a FEMA fact sheet posted online, is making sure truck drivers delivering supplies have information “on businesses that continue to provide services” along their routes.

Supply shortages remain

Still, supply shortages persist today, even as states begin to lift stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned senators Tuesday that states and cities face serious consequences if they open up too quickly.

“What I’ve expressed, then and again, just my concern that if some areas, cities, states or what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently - my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci said.

And if there are outbreaks, the need for supplies, like masks that might also be used for returning to work, could be exacerbated.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has repeatedly called on the White House to invoke a wartime-era law that gives the government more control during emergencies to direct industrial production.

But while Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act in some instances, he’s not done so for personal protective equipment.

In a call with Rear Adm. John Polowczyk over the weekend, Inslee raised concerns over finding enough supplies to ensure people return safely to work, according to a source familiar with the call. Polowczyk told Inslee that the focus for DPA is on medical demand, the source said.

Partnering with the private sector

Washington has been engaging companies about helping manufacture supplies, like Outdoor Research, based in Seattle, to make masks and distilleries to manufacture hand sanitizers.

“The administration’s response continues to be more near sighted, than far sighted,” a Washington state official said. “We have no confidence that the administration has plans to meet long term demands for PPE.”

Ghilarducci said Monday that California had considered the state equivalent to the Defense Production Act but felt it wasn’t necessary at the moment. “We were just overwhelmed with the amount of interest and so we just didn’t think we needed to actually formalize something that we were already getting through the normal process,” he said.

Efforts to partner with companies to manufacture items date back to April. Michigan, for example, announced 12 small businesses and nonprofits would receive grant money intended for small manufacturers looking to retool and produce critical health and human service supplies. The recipients of the grant will help produce an array of items, including face masks, gowns and medical tents.

Michelle Grinnell, director of public relations for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, told CNN Michigan doesn’t plan to retool its grants but is open to changes to help the state.

“At this point I don’t believe we have another round of retooling grants specifically planned,” she said. “However, we are certainly looking to leverage existing programs and platforms to ensure PPE needs across the state are met.”

And Pennsylvania launched the Manufacturing Call to Action Portal where companies that are making personal protective equipment or are able to shift to their manufacturing capabilities can offer their services to the state.

Ongoing discussions about diversifying supply manufacturing is not limited to states. One major US medical distributor is also weighing what supplies could be made in the US, instead of abroad, to shorten the time it takes to get them to health care workers and protect against an over reliance on one source of manufacturing, according to a source familiar.

FEMA, while still the lead on federal operations response, appears to be gradually transitioning some of the responsibilities it took on over recent months. The agency is transferring some supply procurement to the Defense Logistics Agency, which manages the global supply chain for the Defense Department and other federal agencies, among others.

In the coming weeks, though, FEMA will continue its effort to bring in supplies from overseas, dubbed “Project Airbridge,” with an additional 40 flights scheduled, or in transit, according to FEMA. As of May 10, 130 flights have been completed.

CNN’s Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.