No doubt Americans will look back on this current crisis as the moment the country collectively learned its lesson 'the hard way' about the dangers of over-reliance on Chinese manufacturing, or sending the vast majority of our manufacturing abroad anywhere for that matter.
"The critical shortage of medical supplies across the U.S., including testing swabs, protective masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer, can be tied to a sudden drop in imports, mostly from China," Associated Press reports after a new investigation.
Likely Washington's current panicked mobilization to ensure medical equipment and supply needs are met across the country as the numbers of infected Americans begin to track with the kind of exponential growth rate seen in Italy or Iran is due to political leaders already seeing the writing on the wall, or the plain and simple data for that matter. Trump's invoking the Defense Production Act and reportedly mulling lifting some tariffs against China is a case in point.
Chart and data via the Associated Press
"Trade data shows the decline in shipments started in mid-February after the spiraling coronavirus outbreak in China led the country to shutter factories and disrupted ports," the AP says.
Whether ventilators, gloves, surgical gowns or N95 masks (which remove 95% of all airborne particles), or even over-the-counter items like thermometers and bandage kits, the US health system overwhelmingly relies on Chinese manufacturing.
But with the United States' own crisis perhaps in the early stages, and at a moment lack of daily growth in confirmed cases out of Beijing health officials looks promising, the fallout from the prior forced shuttering of many Chinese factories is only now hitting US ports hard and thus is severely depleting hospitals and clinics:
The most recent delivery of medical-grade N95 masks arrived from China about a month ago, on Feb. 19. And as few as 13 shipments of non-medical N95 masks have arrived in the past month — half as many as arrived the same month last year. N95 masks are used in industrial settings, as well as hospitals, and filter out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by regular masks.
The AP investigation further found that over the past month vital supplies of things as simple as hand sanitizer and swabs dropped by 40%, with N95 mask imports cut down by over half.
At the moment hospitals on the East and West coasts in the most highly impacted cities are receiving the bulk of recent reduced shipments first; however, as the pandemic potentially continues to spread in cities in the central parts of the country and mid-west, the vastly reduced supplies could send hospitals into the kind of catastrophe and crisis mode that Italy is tragically experiencing.
But doctors on the ground might say we're already entering Italy levels of the crisis, as the AP alarmingly details: "Doctors, nurses and first responders in the U.S. are resorting to spraying their masks with bleach at the end of each day and hanging them up at home to dry to use for another day, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians."