LA Times and Bloomberg News:  Federal stockpile of N95 masks was depleted under Obama

(by Emma Colton, Washington Examiner) – The national shortage of N95 respirator masks can be traced back to 2009 after the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, when the Obama administration was advised to replenish a national stockpile but did not, according to reports from Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times.

The Trump administration is scrambling to replenish a stockpile of protective medical gear for healthcare workers and patients as the coronavirus sweeps across the nation. N95 respirator masks are one of the most needed medical supplies amid the outbreak.

The George W. Bush administration published the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza plan in 2005, which called on the federal government to distribute medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile* governed by the Health and Human Services Department in the event of an outbreak. [*The Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out].

In 2009, the H1N1 outbreak hit the United States, leading to 274,304 hospitalizations, 12,469 deaths, and a depletion of N95 respirator masks.

A federally backed task force and a safety equipment organization both recommended to the Obama administration that the stockpile be replenished with the 100 million masks used after the H1N1 outbreak.

Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association, said that advice was never heeded.

“Our association is unaware of any major effort to restore the stockpile to cover that drawdown,” he said.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar reported last month that only 12 million N95 masks were available in the stockpile, “a tiny fraction of the 3.5 billion masks one of Azar’s deputies later testified the nation’s healthcare system would need,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

Bloomberg News reported similar findings last week, noting, “After the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog [of] orders for the N95 variety, the [Strategic National Stockpile] distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”

Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration had asked construction companies to “donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital and forgo additional orders of those industrial masks” and the Defense Department would provide 5 million N95 masks and 2,000 ventilators to help bridge the gap.

Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reported 35,225 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Monday.

Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the administration’s coronavirus task force, said on Sunday that a quarter-million people had been tested for the virus, with 9 out of 10 people testing negative.

“The FDA is working with manufacturers around the country to come up with faster, more innovative tests,” he said.

Published at washingtonexaminer .com. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Washington Exmainer.


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NOTE: Read the “Background” below the questions before answering.

1. What are N95 masks?

2. a) What is the reason for the current shortage of N95 masks?
b) What did Bloomberg News report about the depletion of the masks following the H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak in 2009?

3. a) How many Americans were hospitalized and how many died from the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009?
b) What did both a federally backed task force and a safety equipment organization recommend to the Obama administration at that time?
c) What did the president of the International Safety Equipment Association say about the advice?

4. How many N95 masks were in the stockpile (Strategic National Stockpile) last month, according to HHS Secretary Alex Azar?

5. a) What is the Strategic National Stockpile?
b) What do you think of the Obama administration’s failure to replenish the stockpile after the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009?


The Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.

When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency. Organized for scalable response to a variety of public health threats, this repository contains enough supplies to respond to multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously. (visit the website at

What is an N95 respirator?

  • An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.
  • The ‘N95’ designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles. If properly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators exceed those of face masks. However, even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not completely eliminate the risk of illness or death. (from

What is the difference? — Read the FDA’s Comparing Surgical Masks and Surgical N95 Respirators

Read about the H1N1 (Swine Flu) at

For up-to-date info on the coronavirus, go to

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