News & Politics

It’s Barack Obama's Fault There’s a Shortage of N95 Respirator Masks

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Last week Bloomberg published a story about the mask shortages and how that was making it difficult for hospital workers in various states to take alternative measures to help protect themselves during the coronavirus pandemic, including making masks out of office supplies, and taking masks home to bleach them so they can be reused. It paints a horrible picture of chaos in our nation’s hospitals, and attempts to blame the problem on the Trump administration, because the Strategic National Stockpile, which is maintained by the Health and Human Services Department, is insufficient for the current crisis.

Back in 2005, the Bush administration published the “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.” The strategy called for plans to distribute medical supplies from the national stockpile and to assist state and local efforts to handle an outbreak, but last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress that the national stockpile of N95 respirator masks was 12 million—a mere fraction of the 1.7 billion masks government scientists estimated back in 2015 would be needed in the event of a severe flu outbreak.

How did we end up with such a low stockpile? It used to be much larger. What happened to it?

Buried several paragraphs deep in the aforementioned Bloomberg story we find out that “after the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”

That’s right, the shortage of N95 masks can be traced back to the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic of 2009… when Barack Obama was president.

A different story from the Los Angeles Times published last week goes into more detail about what happened after the swine flu pandemic depleted the supply. According to their story, “After the swine flu epidemic in 2009, a safety-equipment industry association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended that depleted supplies of N95 respirator masks […] be replenished by the stockpile.” The problem is that didn’t happen. According to Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association, about 100 million N95 respirator masks were used up during the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010, but, he said was unaware of any “major effort to restore the stockpile to cover that drawdown.”

In short, even though the Obama administration was advised to replenish the national stockpile of the N95 respirator masks, they didn’t. Despite the fact the media traced the cause of the shortage back to 2009, they accuse Trump of poor planning and trying to deflect responsibility. It doesn’t take a genius to know that in 2009 Barack Obama was president, but not once in either story did Bloomberg or the Los Angeles Times link the failure to replenish the N95 respirator masks with Obama or his administration, after they apparently ignored recommendations to do so.

President Trump has received criticism for blaming Obama for various deficiencies in the coronavirus response, and here we have the media tracing one particular deficiency back to the Obama years, and yet they avoid directly linking it by name to his administration. Obama had six years to restore that stockpile and even make it bigger. But he didn’t. Yet, the media today wants you to believe it’s Trump’s fault.

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Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis