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Veterans Affairs not equipped for second coronavirus wave, officials say

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During a discussion over supply chain issues on Tuesday before a Senate committee, a Veterans Affairs official said they only have enough medical gear for the next 30 days, posing it vulnerable to a second wave of coronavirus.

The alarming discussion came to a head when Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, pressed Dr. Richard Stone, top health official at the VA, about the state of medical supplies.

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“If a second wave happened in two weeks, are you set up to take care of it and protect our frontline employees?” Tester asked Stone.

While Stone initially said yes, estimating the VA has an approximate 30-day supply on all PPE [personal protective equipment], he later said he doesn’t believe the current supply will be adequate. Needed supplies include face masks, additional PPE and cleaning materials.

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“I believe that we need to move to a 60-day supply, I believe that for a full second wave we’ll need an additional six months of supply,” Stone said.

“It sounds like we’re kind of at a dip in this whole COVID-19 thing,” Tester said.

Veterans Affairs officials say medical supplies in need include face masks, PPE and cleaning supplies. (iStock)

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Stone said at the peak of the pandemic, the VA’s 170 medical centers were using a quarter of a million N95 masks daily, calling it a “daunting amount.”

The supply chain issues are not unique to the VA. Worldwide, the manufacturing capacity has not caught up to the requirement, according to Deborah Kramer, Acting Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Support Services at the Veterans Health Administration.

“We are working hard every day to pull material in and to sustain operations and we can’t let down,” Kramer said.

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Stone noted the VA is spending $100 million each month for PPE, as opposed to the $10 million spent monthly before the coronavirus pandemic. He said the health care system added more than 18,800 employees to its medical staff, with more to come, and is prepping four readiness centers to house PPE as it primes for another wave of the virus this fall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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