Unpreparedness for COVID-19 is a bipartisan failure

Nearly 6,000 of the protective masks sent to Alabama from the federal stockpile of medical supplies were supposed to have been thrown away a decade ago. Materials in them had sustained dry rot and were unusable, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, more than 150 ventilators sent to Los Angeles from the federal stockpile did not operate properly. They had to be repaired.

Any more questions about whether the federal government was prepared adequately for the COVID-19 outbreak?

Similar stories of unpreparedness have been uncovered in some states and big cities. They are not a matter of Republican or Democrat failures, though, no doubt, some politicians will attempt to capitalize on them.

No, this is a longstanding, bipartisan failure. We Americans simply grew complacent about our security against outbreaks of deadly diseases.

It has been pointed out that the states, not the federal government, should be responsible for public health challenges such as the coronavirus. Technically, that may be true.

But COVID-19 has made it clear that Washington must be a reliable strategic reserve for the states.

That means federal officials should have a stockpile of certain medical supplies and equipment such as protective masks and ventilators — and must keep supplies up to date and devices in good operating condition. No hospital should receive a shipment of masks that fall apart when unwrapped. No doctor should learn during a crisis that a ventilator does not work.

What to place in the federal stockpile? Good question. We know supplies such as face masks are needed to battle many infectious diseases. We recognize ventilators can save the lives of those suffering from a variety of illnesses. But other types of supplies and equipment are needed to deal with other types of disease.

The key is that a realistic federal stockpile needs to be set up — and maintained — as a backstop for states that may find themselves overwhelmed in a pandemic.


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