WASHINGTON—As COVID-19 cases across the country continue to climb, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) held a press call on Wednesday to announce the Protect Our Heroes Act, new legislation to increase production of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) and address the N-95 respirator shortage facing frontline health care workers.
The Protect Heroes Act would operationalize the Defense Production Act, authorize $5 billion to bring additional PPE into our national stockpile, authorize $1 billion for the Small Business Administration to provide grants to small businesses so they can retool themselves to produce more of this equipment, and require the federal government to provide more transparency on the national supply chain.
On the current crisis that health care workers and hospitals are in dealing with COVID-19, Murphy said: “Our emergency rooms and inpatient wings of hospitals are at a breaking point. Today, there are 75,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19. It took around 90 days to go from zero cases in this country to a million cases, it took 10 days to go from 9 million to 10 million. And without any plan in place from the White House about how to adequately protect our first responders, this pandemic is going to be increasingly deadly for the people that are on the frontlines in our hospitals, in our health centers, at our testing sites.”
On the Trump administration’s failure to respond to health care workers’ PPE needs and how the Protect Our Heroes Act would address this issue, Murphy said: “It is still the wild, wild west in which every hospital in every state has to go out and create their own supply chain. That's not how it should work in the middle of a national pandemic. And so this legislation is critical because it approaches this crisis from a number of different perspectives.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Murphy has been outspoken in calling on the administration to federalize the national supply chain. In April, Murphy, Baldwin and Schumer announced the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act (S. 3627/ H.R.6711), which would require the president to utilize all available authorities under the Defense Production Act to mobilize a federal response to the pandemic through an equitable and transparent process. 46 Senate Democrats support their legislation as well as AFL-CIO, SEIU, the National Nurses United, AFSCME, Get Us PPE, and US PIRG. The legislation also was included in the House-passed COVID-19 relief package, the HEROES Act but Majority Leader McConnell refuses to bring this legislation before the Senate for a vote.
A full transcript of Murphy’s opening remarks can be found below:
“Thank you very much, leader Schumer. Thank you for leading the introduction of this incredibly important piece of legislation—legislation that dovetails with a bill introduced by the vast majority of members of our caucus over the summer led by Senator Baldwin and myself. This legislation is absolutely critical because, as leader Schumer mentioned, we are enduring a nightmare right now, across the American health care system.
“Our emergency rooms and inpatient wings of hospitals are at a breaking point. Today, there are 75,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19. It took around 90 days to go from zero cases in this country to a million cases. It took 10 days to go from 9 million to 10 million. And without any plan in place from the White House about how to adequately protect our first responders, this pandemic is going to be increasingly deadly for the people that are on the frontlines in our hospitals, in our health centers, at our testing sites.
“A recent survey of nursing homes showed that 20% of all nursing homes still report a shortage of PPE. A survey recently done by one of the big national nursing organizations found that 80% of health care workers are still reusing single use PPE. And I could list for you an endless series of stories about hospitals that today are requiring nurses to reuse N-95 masks until they are physically damaged or so dirty that they simply cannot be used any longer.
“The Trump administration has totally dropped the ball on PPE production. They didn't start ordering mass quantities of PPE until late March. And today, we have zero visibility as to how this administration is purchasing PPE or managing the private sector supply chain. My hospitals in Connecticut have no idea as to how HHS and the White House are directing PPE supplies.
“And it is still the wild, wild west in which every hospital in every state has to go out and create their own supply chain. That's not how it should work in the middle of a national pandemic. And so this legislation is critical because it approaches this crisis from a number of different perspectives.
“First, as leader Schumer mentioned, it authorizes certain actions by the administration that they desperately need to take—the operation of the Defense Production Act. And then it authorizes $5 billion to bring PPE into our national stockpile. And then smartly authorizes a billion dollars for the SBA to provide grants to small businesses so they can start to retool themselves to produce more of this equipment.
“I have so many small businesses, small manufacturers in Connecticut that want to start producing PPE, but right now, they need help to do so because they aren't flush with capital because of the general downturn in business. We have so many small-medium sized manufacturers in this country who want to be part of the solution, who want to start producing large numbers of PPE, they just need a little bit of help from the federal government.
“And then lastly, the bill requires the federal government to provide that transparency that is lacking today, to release regular reports on what the need is and how the plan is going to meet that need.
“Leader Schumer will remember a phone call that the Democratic caucus had with the Task Force back in the days when the Task Force was actually meeting and communicating to the public and policy leaders. Five or six different members of the Senate asked the Vice President and his Task Force what their plan was to meet the shortage of PPE and testing equipment in this country. And over and over again, they couldn't identify a specific targeted plan to fill the shortages in the time that we needed in order to confront what was in the first wave of this virus.
“These transparency provisions in this legislation will make sure that everybody has visibility on what the scope of the problem is and what the proposed solution is so that we can have accountability. That's really important for Congress, but that's really important for the public as well. So I'm glad to be one of the original introducers of this legislation and look forward to partnering with my colleagues to push it forward."