USA Today conducted a fact check Friday in which the media outlet declared as “true” the claim that the Obama administration failed to replenish the supply of N95 masks in the Strategic National Stockpile after it had run out in the wake of past health crises.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said during the White House coronavirus daily briefing that the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as N95 masks, had been nearly depleted when he assumed office.
In the previous week, the Daily Wire had published an article that claimed the Obama administration had failed to restock the supply of masks after the H1N1 health emergency:
The Obama administration significantly depleted the federal stockpile of N95 respirator masks to deal with the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 and never rebuilt the stockpile despite calls to do so, according to reports.
According to USA Today:
We rate this claim TRUE because it is supported by our research. There is no indication that the Obama administration took significant steps to replenish the supply of N95 masks in the Strategic National Stockpile after it was depleted from repeated crises. Calls for action came from experts at the time concerned for the country’s ability to respond to future serious pandemics. Such recommendations were, for whatever reason, not heeded.
On Sunday, however, the Associated Press (AP) continued to blame the Trump administration for having “squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal [sic] of critically needed medical supplies and equipment.”
“Now, three months into the crisis, that stockpile is nearly drained just as the numbers of patients needing critical care is surging,” AP stated, and received comment from former Obama Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who told the wire service, “We basically wasted two months.”
As USA Today noted, however, on Friday, progressive media outlet ProPublica reported funds that were available to the Obama administration were not used to restock the national supply of masks.
Though ProPublica blames some of the issues surrounding the depletion of the Strategic National Stockpile on “Tea Party budget battles” at the time, the article stated:
With limited resources, officials in charge of the stockpile tend to focus on buying lifesaving drugs from small biotechnology firms that would, in the absence of a government buyer, have no other market for their products, experts said. Masks and other protective equipment are in normal times widely available and thus may not have been prioritized for purchase, they said.
As USA Today observed, a 2017 study in the journal Health Security found nearly:
… 75 percent of N95 respirators and 25 percent of face masks contained in the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (∼100 million products) were deployed for use in health care settings over the course of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also stated the country’s stockpile of PPE was taxed during hurricanes Alex, Irene, Isaac, and Sandy, and then later during the 2014 outbreak of Ebola and the 2016 zika virus crisis.
These situations “continued to significantly tax the stockpile with no serious effort from the Obama administration to replenish the fund,” reported USA Today.