One reason that the U.S. was unprepared for the pandemic is that we were shipping medical supplies to a China even though government officials had been warned that the disease was likely to reach our country.

U.S. manufacturers shipped millions of dollars of face masks and other protective medical equipment to China in January and February with encouragement from the federal government, a Washington Post review of economic data and internal government documents has found. The move underscores the Trump administration’s failure to recognize and prepare for the growing pandemic threat.

In those two months, the value of protective masks and related items exported from the United States to China grew more than 1,000 percent compared with the same time last year — from $1.4 million to about $17.6 million, according to a Post analysis of customs categories which, according to research by Public Citizen, contain key PPE. Similarly, shipments of ventilators and protective garments jumped by triple digits.

Instead of taking steps to prepare, they ignored the advice of one expert after another,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.). “People right now, as we speak, are dying because there have been inadequate supplies of PPE.”

While the percentage increase of exports to China was steep, they represent a small fraction of the overall U.S. need. Throughout the country, the shortage has forced hospitals, nursing homes and first responders to ration masks and other protective gear as they treat infected and high-risk patients, creating a secondary health crisis among first line providers.

In the early days of the covid-19’s exponential march across the globe, when it was still mostly contained in China, there was no widespread sense of crisis in the White House. But by the end of January, briefings to White House national security staff made clear that the danger of a major pandemic was real. By then seven Americans had fallen ill, and experts said the need for an adequate supply of protective gear should have been apparent.

Nonetheless, on Jan. 30, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Fox Business that the outbreak could “accelerate the return of jobs to North America” because companies would move factories away from impacted areas.

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