To say that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in the status quo of American society would be an understatement. 

After undergoing testing and treatment for COVID-19, one uninsured woman in the Boston area was presented a bill just shy of $35,000. Last week, the stock market plummeted over fears relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, erasing all gains made over the past three years and cleaning out 401(k)s nationwide. 

Any of these stories by themselves is worthy of our attention. But one vulnerability that this pandemic has exposed should instead elicit fear: just how underprepared both the United States and the world are to tackle outbreaks of this scale.

Given all that has happened over the past few weeks, it may disturb you to read that back in 2016, a United Nations report had assessed the ability of the international community to respond to communicable diseases as “woefully insufficient.” Indeed, professionals have been sounding the alarm for years. 

Domestically, perhaps nothing has exposed our vulnerability to pandemics quite like the current shortage in medical personal protective equipment (PPE). Without PPE, health care workers are quite literally ill-equipped to serve on the front lines fighting this virus.  A vital piece of PPE for taking care of infectious coronavirus patients is the N95 respirator mask, which fit tighter and are thicker than normal surgical masks. 

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance so that simple surgical masks can be used as an “acceptable alternative” to the N95 respirator masks. The change comes amid a widely-reported shortage of the N95 masks. 

The government’s Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies includes 12 million N95 masks and an additional 30 million surgical masks. While this may sound impressive, in reality this is only about 1% of the 3.5 billion masks that the Department of Health and Human Services has estimated would be needed over one year should the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak reach dire levels.

Keeping our health care workers safe serving on the front lines of this pandemic is of the utmost importance for the safety of all Americans. 

James Ninia, Detroit

student, Wayne State University School of Medicine

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