American manufacturers were encouraged by the federal government to ship millions of masks and other medical supplies to China this year, despite warnings that those items would soon be necessary, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
The US has for weeks suffered major shortages of protective items for frontline health care workers and first responders treating coronavirus patients. Meanwhile, hospitals and local US governments have reported major delays in receiving shipments of those products from China.
Doctors and nurses have reported widespread rationing and reusing of masks and other protective items, exposing them to increased risk of coronavirus transmission.
In January and February of 2020, US manufacturers exported roughly $17.6 million in face masks and other vital medical supplies, according to a Post analysis of customs data.
That's a 1,000% increase from the same period last year, where exporters shipped $1.4 million worth of the products, according to The Post.
The Post reported that during those months, White House national security staff received briefings that a pandemic was looming and that coronavirus would not remain contained in China.
"Instead of taking steps to prepare, they ignored the advice of one expert after another," said Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas told The Post. "People right now, as we speak, are dying because there have been inadequate supplies of PPE."
The Trump administration has shunted the blame for the lack of masks to China, saying the country bought up masks and PPE from across the world, causing shortages, and tried to cover up the extent of the outbreak, thereby delaying the US response.
White House trade policy adviser Peter Navarro told The Post that "America and the world lost a full six weeks of preparation to the [Chinese Communist Party's] deadly silence, a time during which the Wuhan virus might well have been put quickly back into its lethal bottle."