Nursing Homes to Get 7 Million N95 Masks From Federal Stockpile

August 17, 2020

by Shira Stein, Bloomberg

Nursing homes across the U.S. will receive a total of 7 million N95 respirators from the federal stockpile, a White House spokesperson told Bloomberg Law.

The White House plans to send reports to state governors Monday detailing a plan to get more masks to health-care workers who are again rationing and reusing masks and gowns, a practice that can endanger doctors, nurses, and patients alike.

A surge of Covid-19 infections among nursing home residents in the Sunbelt pushed the total number of new weekly cases at U.S. facilities to a record level of 9,715 at the end of July, according to data from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

The plan comes about two weeks after the official in charge of the federal cache, Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, detailed in an interview how he planned to get more supplies to health-care workers.

Federal officials have 44 million N95 masks in the Strategic National Stockpile and more than a half-billion on order, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Betsy Marville, a registered nurse who is an organizer with 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, previously said workers in nursing homes often bring their own masks because the operator either doesn’t have enough or is hoarding them.

“Many nursing homes and other long term care facilities are still unable to acquire the personal protective equipment and testing they need to fully combat this virus,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said in a statement.

Nearly 20% of nursing homes told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention they either have no personal protective equipment or less than a seven-day supply, a July 14 letter from the AHCA said.

The Strategic National Stockpile was created in the wake of the 2001 anthrax attacks to hold supplies needed in the event of bioterrorism, but it has evolved to respond to pandemics as well.

The other aspect of Polowczyk’s plan—changes to deals with N95 manufacturers like Honeywell and O&M Halyard under the Defense Production Act allowing them to delay filling orders of hundreds of millions of respirators for the stockpile—was approved by the White House and is the process of being executed, the White House spokesperson said.

Those masks would be directed to the commercial market in August and September, where hospitals and nursing homes could buy them, Polowczyk said.