This week marks completion of FEMA’s first month leading the Whole-of-America coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic response. While we have a way to go, I have no doubt that we will be successful in protecting our communities by slowing the spread of the virus. The efforts and lessons learned in these first 30 days will shape our approach moving forward.
Preserve and Prioritize Scarce Resources to Save Lives
Our priority remains ensuring critical healthcare workers have the necessary PPE to treat COVID-19 patients. We also want to ensure that workers, whose jobs are critical to the resilience of the Nation during this pandemic, are also protected. To do this, it is vital to preserve and prioritize scarce resources.
Emergency managers and other leaders in the community are helping to maximize supply inventory by using the Strategies to Optimize the Supply of PPE and Equipment and following FEMA guidance on how to best preserve PPE. They are also ensuring that the state distribution system for PPE is moving the supplies to the end-user in a timely fashion and that communities stretch stocks as far as they can be stretched.
Another preservation practice we are investing in is the Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System, which can sterilize N95 masks. It is FDA-certified with capacity to sterilize 80,000 N95 masks daily. Tools such as this help us to make the most of available supplies.
Use data to drive decision-making
States share the critical data elements about the status of hospital capacity, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE) with both the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and FEMA.
The data provided enables us to make informed decisions about where to send limited resources and provides context to support resource requests. Emergency managers help determine when a peak may occur in their area, the capacity challenges they may face, when resource shortages might occur, as well as, where resources are going.
Utilize federal medical staff, federal medical stations, and alternate care sites
Real-time adaptation is critical to our success – we prepare for the worst, then readjust. Both federal medical staff and the support structure provided via the federal medical stations are in highest demand across the country, currently with 41 federal medical stations committed. Every day we look critically at the utilization of these resources to ensure we have the right resource at the right location, at the right time. If a state no longer requires these resources, they contact the FEMA Regional Administrator to begin the demobilization process.
Emergency managers, public health officials, and the on-the-ground resource providers are reutilizing federal medical staff to priority areas of need. A recent example of this is in New York City, where federal medical staff from both the Javits Center and USNS Comfort were placed into a medical “bullpen,” for local hospitals to draw from daily.
When we witness underutilization of large-format Alternate Care Sites, we repurpose high-demand, low-density Federal medical capabilities in order to bring critical healthcare providers to the point of need. I am extraordinarily proud of the rapid adaptations our FEMA, HHS, and DOD teams have made on the ground in consultation with local and state officials to carry this out.
Strengthen the Supply Chain
FEMA continues to expedite the movement of critical supplies from the global market to medical distributors in various locations across the United States through Project Air Bridge. FEMA created the air bridge to significantly shorten the amount of time it takes for U.S. medical supply distributors to get personal protective equipment and other critical supplies into the country for their respective customers. All supplies will continue being distributed to CDC-designated hot spots as well as through the vendors’ regular supply chain to locations across the country.
Continue to Bust Myths
One of the areas I get the most questions about is regarding FEMA ‘seizing’ or ‘commandeering’ critical PPE. FEMA is neither seizing or taking PPE from local or state governments or taking PPE from hospitals or any commercial entity lawfully engaged in the PPE distribution. However, there are bad actors out there who are hoarding and price gouging and trying to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19. The Department of Justice is prioritizing the detection, investigation and prosecution of illegal conduct related to the pandemic. These efforts resulted in the seizure of PPE from those individual bad actors and businesses hoarding PPE.
Defense Production Act (DPA) is supporting acceleration and expansion efforts. Priority rated DPA orders do not create a situation of “outbidding;” rather, it puts the federal government requirement to the “front of the line” for fulfillment ahead of other orders so we can best assist. In this process, we work to balance our authorities while avoiding interference of private sector supply chains that can deliver resources most efficiently and effectively. If a bidding conflict occurs, we work closely with the state or tribe to resolve it in a way that best serves their needs.
At the end of the day, we all have the same objective – getting the right resource, to the right place, at the right time. The tireless efforts of those on the frontline under these unprecedented and demanding circumstances has been truly incredible. I continue to be inspired by the heroic and extraordinary efforts of all Americans across the country doing their part in the fight against COVID-19. This truly is a whole-of-America response and FEMA is proud to help lead it.