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What is Project Airbridge?

Stockpile of medical supplies "very stressed"
U.S. stockpile of medical supplies "very stressed" 02:57

As U.S. hospitals are in search of the medical supplies they need to fight COVID-19, the federal government is working with private companies to bring, in the words of President Trump, "massive amounts of medical supplies from other countries to the United States."

The effort is called "Project Airbridge," and on Sunday, Mr. Trump announced that the first flight of equipment from Shanghai landed in New York with 80 tons of personal protective equipment. That FEMA-funded flight contained roughly 130,000 N95 masks, roughly 1.8 million face masks and gowns, more than 10.3 million gloves and more than 70,000 thermometers, according to a White House official. 

FEMA and the State Department are coordinating flights to bring the supplies to the U.S. in two to three days, rather than shipping them by sea, which would take 20-40 days.

Governors and hospitals have been sounding the alarm that they need more personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers as they care for the growing number of coronavirus patients. For now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will give the majority of supplies to the hard-hit states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, while the rest of the supplies will go to nursing homes there and other high-risk areas in the U.S. Dozens of those flights are expected to take place over the next 30 days. 

Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who heads the Office of American Innovation, is the White House point person for the project, which is being supported by FEMA's transportation task force and State Department task forces. Those entities are working alongside health care distributors, including Cardinal Health, McKesson, Henry Schein, Owens & Minor and Medlin.

"At President Trump's direction we formed an unprecedented historic public-private partnership to ensure that massive amounts of masks, gear and other PPE will be brought to the United States immediately to better equip our health care workers on the front lines and to better serve the American people," Kushner said in a statement.

The search for much-needed health care equipment from abroad comes as top administration official Peter Navarro, who the president has tasked with coordinating the Defense Production Act, has been crafting an executive order to cut U.S. dependence on medicine and medical supplies manufactured abroad. Navarro wants to bring that manufacturing back to the U.S., a need he sees as exemplified by the ongoing pandemic. 

Mr. Trump has sometimes questioned the scope of hospitals' need for equipment like ventilators, masks and gloves. Over the weekend, he told Fox News' Sean Hannity he didn't think states need 30,000 or 40,000 ventilators, after New York requested 30,000 machines.

"I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being in said in some areas are just bigger than they're going to be. I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators," Mr. Trump told Hannity. "You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they'll have two ventilators, and now, all of the sudden they're saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'"

Then, the next day, the president denied he said that. He also said journalists should look into where the thousands of masks hospitals are receiving are going, seeming to suggest hospitals were hiding them.

"Even though this is different, something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000?" Mr. Trump said Sunday, referencing the increased demand for masks. "And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just don't see, from a practical standpoint, how that's possible to go from that to that."

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