President Donald Trump has declined to invoke the Defense Production Act, which could ratchet up US production of medical equipment.
- Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff are experiencing extreme shortages of protective gear and equipment.
- State and local politicians have demanded that President Donald Trump use his power to ratchet up the US's industrial production of equipment.
- But Trump and other administration officials have rejected the calls, saying it would be bad for industry.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
What happens when workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis aren't properly protected from it?
Nurses and other medical staff across the United States have no choice but to find out. Medical staff in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have all said they don't have enough protective equipment.
Without protection, the coronavirus pandemic could get worse. As Robin Cole, an emergency room nurse in Sacramento, California, told a local radio station: if nurses aren't safe, then the patients aren't safe either.
"If we can't protect ourselves against infectious diseases, then we become carriers of those infectious diseases," Cole said.
And it's not clear when more masks are coming. The federal government has tapped into the Strategic National Stockpile for more masks and other protective equipment, but authorities in Washington and Oregon say it still isn't enough. 3M, which makes the N95 masks critical for protecting medical workers against the coronavirus, has ramped up manufacturing, but it's not clear if they're yet meeting the extreme global demand for them.
Trump administration refuses to mandate increased production
There's one way that the US could increase the production of protective equipment, medical gear, and tests: President Donald Trump could invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 — or the DPA — which would allay the shortages by giving Trump the power to control supply chains and compel producers to ratchet up manufacturing.
"President Trump should be using the DPA to ensure we have enough ventilators and other medical equipment to deal with this crisis," Khanna told The Intercept. "This will take a war time-like response. Congress should appropriate up to $75 billion for this purpose."
Some companies — including General Motors, Apple, and Hanes — have already begun putting their production capacity towards creating supplies necessary to fight the outbreak. But experts say that without a centralized effort by the federal government, it's not clear how much they need to produce, whether their efforts are enough, and how they're supposed to get supplies to the areas that need it most.
But using the DPA, Trump said, is not the American way.
"We're a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela," he said during a Sunday press conference. "How did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well."
The law does not actually involve nationalizing businesses. Under the DPA, the US government would sign contracts with manufacturers, setting performance and production standards.
Trump's allies have, nonetheless, pushed against him invoking the act. John Murphy, senior vice president of international policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, told the New York Times that the DPA could be economically harmful, even as medical workers lack protective equipment.
"The Defense Production Act was designed for defense industry products with a single supplier, often with purely domestic production chains, and invoking it may do more harm than good in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and medical equipment," Murphy said.