WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden blasted the Trump administration Wednesday for refusing to share information needed to help his incoming team battle the coronavirus pandemic, including data on supplies in the national stockpile.
“We’ve been unable to get access to the kinds of things we need to know about the depths of the stockpiles,” he said during a roundtable with frontline health workers. “We know there’s not much at all.”
A copy of those stockpile numbers — dated Nov. 16 — was provided to Yahoo News, which is publishing them. The numbers appear to show progress in some areas, such as in the stockpile of N95 respirators and ventilators, but also makes clear that earlier Trump administration promises to bolster the stockpile have fallen short.
President Trump has frequently blamed the Obama administration for not leaving a sufficient supply of equipment in the National Strategic Stockpile, even falsely claiming the country was left with no ventilators.
“The cupboard was bare,” Trump told ABC News in the spring. “The other administration, the last administration, left us nothing.”
There were actually 16,600 ventilators in the stockpile when the pandemic started.
Biden’s remarks on Wednesday, however, could also be seen as not totally accurate, though he was not specific about what areas he regarded as low. There are now, for example, almost 153,000 ventilators in the stockpile, according the report obtained by Yahoo News, or almost 10 times the number at the beginning of the pandemic.
The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There are also now in the stockpile about 135 million N95 masks — an item that has been in short supply since the beginning of the pandemic. The Trump administration had previously promised there would be 300 million N95s in the stockpile by the fall.
In September a spokesperson for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the stockpile, told Yahoo News that it has contracts in place to produce a total of 800 million N95s by the end of 2021. “By the end of 2020, the SNS will hold 22 times more N95 respirators than pre-pandemic inventory levels,” the spokesperson said.
In a statement Wednesday evening to Yahoo News, an HHS spokesperson defended the department’s efforts to increase the stockpile. “It is important to note that HHS is taking care not to disrupt the commercial supply chain that is providing critical and immediate needs for healthcare facilities, and replenishment is ongoing in order to provide additional supplies to the areas experiencing increased rates of infection,” the spokesperson wrote. “Supplies in the [Strategic National Stockpile] inventory are available for immediate deployment to areas where states cannot meet needs from their own stockpiles or are unable to secure sufficient product from the commercial market.”
HHS referred questions about Biden’s comments to the General Services Administration, which is responsible for signing off on paperwork that provides incoming presidential administrations with resources designed to facilitate the transition. The head of GSA has so far declined to sign the necessary paperwork.
Biden has also criticized the Trump administration for not sharing information on the COVID vaccines, which will need to be distributed next year.
“Unless [information about the vaccines] is made available soon, we’re going to be behind by weeks or months being able to put together the whole initiative relating to the biggest promise we have with two drug companies coming along and finding 95 percent effectiveness, efficiency in the vaccines, which is enormous promise,” he said.
“That’s the only slowdown right now we have.”
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