If the executive branch won't take responsibility for procuring essential masks and other personal protective equipment, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) have a plan to make it happen. The lawmakers teamed up on a proposal to establish an Emergency Office of Manufacturing for Public Health via legislative action, which would help get crucial health equipment where it needs to go.
"Our bill authorizes the federal [government] to manufacture, or contract to manufacture, key equipment and supplies for federal, state, local, and tribal health programs at no cost to them," Warren tweeted, "And it will start manufacturing facilities to make COVID-19 vaccines at scale when they are available."
The goal of the legislation is to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and accurately diagnose and treat COVID-19, which the U.S. federal government has failed to do on many counts. As of Thursday, the day Warren and Schakowsky unveiled their bill, the U.S. has over 1 million confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, and over 60,000 people have died due to complications of the virus.
Of course, the true number of infections and deaths is not known, in part because of a shortage of available testing, waffling guidance from the Trump administration, and lack of early knowledge about symptoms and treatment. The Warren-Schakowsky legislation would essentially create a centralized location for coronavirus information and action in order to "address shortages" and dispense supplies.
The Emergency Office of Manufacturing for Public Health could utilize both public and private partnerships to facilitate the construction of medical supplies hospitals are in dire need of, like masks, tests, and ventilators, and it could even invest in vaccine research, the lawmakers say.
The bill isn't so far from what Warren herself has been advocating for in recent weeks — mainly, that action needs to be taken soon to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and lessen the severity of the economic devastation wracking the country, as 30 million Americans have now filed for unemployment. As part of her presidential campaign, Warren released a plan back in January to prepare the U.S. to combat deadly, highly contagious diseases like coronavirus.
Warren's early plan, which called for funding infectious disease agencies, advocating for health care workers, and restoring support for the Global Health Security Agenda, stated that "the best way to beat a pandemic is to prevent it from starting in the first place." The senator also warned against the deep cuts the Trump administration had made to pandemic research.
Unfortunately, it's a little late for all that now. With America now in the throes of its coronavirus outbreak, the new Warren-Schakowsky plan appears to want to correct past harms done to federal agencies and mitigate future impact in one fell swoop. If passed, the bill would be essential for states that are struggling to contain the virus, like New York and Michigan. Meanwhile, Congress is still in talks for its next sweeping relief package.