Equipment deficit shows vulnerability
At President Donald Trump’s urging, the United States is adding a sixth branch — the “Space Force” — to our armed forces, in order to defend the vast region beyond our atmosphere. Perhaps we should be thinking of inner space, instead.
Throughout the nation, public health officials have been scrambling to cope with the COVID-19 epidemic. One challenge has been finding protective equipment for first responders and health care professionals. Special N-95 masks and respirators, along with protective suits, had been in short supply. That raises an obvious question:
Why did the federal government not have a stockpile of such equipment ready and waiting for such an emergency?
Prior to the COVID-10 pandemic, N-95 masks could be purchased for about $1.65 each. More capable N-95 respirators went for $5. Disposable protective suits were on the market for $16.50.
A stockpile of 20 million N-95 masks could have been purchased for about $30 million. Add 5 million of the respirators and 5 million protective suits and the price tag goes up to slightly more than $141 million — chicken feed in the world of national defense. The amount would not be enough to purchase two F-35 fighter planes.
Yet a few warehouses storing such a stockpile could provide at least a good head-start in safeguarding Americans against any number of emerging diseases such as COVID-19.
Why did no one in Washington recognize that and act on what we now can see is a critical national defense need?
Because we look outward, not inward, for enemies, of course. That is a mistake we cannot afford to continue making. The next killer coronavirus may well be worse.