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Bleach, sleeping pads and masks: What the military and Veterans Affairs are asking for to combat coronavirus

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Items such as toilet paper and disinfectant spray are popping up next to culture swabs and surgical masks on the wish lists of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation's largest healthcare system, and the Department of Defense, America's largest employer.

The government's System for Award Management website is used by federal agencies to post what it needs so companies can bid for contracts. In recent days, several of those postings have revolved around coronavirus.

"COVID 19 URGENT" reads one post by the Army's Fort Bragg installation, which has had at least four confirmed coronavirus cases and is seeking 600 new sleeping pads. A link to a bidding site notes that it will only consider providers who can start delivering the pads by Tuesday.

In an email to CBS News, a Fort Bragg spokesperson said Sunday the installation is planning in advance for the demands of treating military coronavirus patients.

"We are following the guidelines of the CDC and adhering to practices that will assist in stopping the spread of the virus," said Major Allie M. Payne. "We believe the purchase of 600 sleeping mats is a routine allow for either the capability to purchase or obtain a stock of necessary items be built up should the need arise." 

At a base operated by the Air Force, the Joint Base San Antonio, officials are seeking bulk cleaning supplies — 3,000 two-liter containers of Purell sanitizer and 1,200 gallons of bleach — as well as basic medical supplies like 600,000 exam gloves.

York College professor Matt Shatzkin, the author of the book "Understanding the Complexity of Emergency Supply Chains," said the military tries to anticipate where potential needs might arise and acquires "contingency stock" early.

"The military is a 'wargaming culture,' which means it gets paid to think about layers and layers of 'what if,' and sometimes that translates into requisitioning items that they think they might need," said Shatzkin, who previously taught supply chain management at the Army War College. "One way of looking at it is, it's a potential risk to not put that bid out there, to not get that in motion to at least assess the feasibility of those stocks being available."

For the Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates 1,255 health care facilities, the need for supplies amid nationwide shortages is more certain.

In a post described as "market research" for "COVID-19 Medical Facility Supplies," the agency sought pricing information from sources that can repeatedly provide items from a long list of needed supplies.

The request asks that companies provide "clear and unambiguous evidence to substantiate the capacity" to continuously provide items ranging from soap and disinfectant wipes to surgical masks and thermometers.

A spokesperson for the agency called the posting, which says it's seeking sources "for a near-future Blanket Purchase Agreement," and set a deadline of this Friday, an "exercise."

"The department's emergency preparedness exercises began weeks before COVID-19 was confirmed in the US. These exercises are an essential part of VA's ability to meet the specialized healthcare needs of Veterans across this widespread challenge," the spokesperson said.

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