The US Sent Tons of Medical Supplies to China Even as Senators Warned of Virus Threat Here

Now the Trump administration is begging other countries to send us masks and respirators.

Lee County Emergency Management Coordinator Lee Bowdry, right, drops off boxes full of new N-95 face masks to a medical center warehouse facility in Tupelo, Miss. United States hospitals are facing an unprecedented shortage of masks.Thomas Wells/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP

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The United States government sent nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to China—including masks and respirators—almost three weeks after the first case of the coronavirus was reported in the state of Washington

In a press release from the State Department dated Feb. 7, the agency announced it was prepared to spend up to $100 million to assist China as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to rise there. The day the press release went out, Trump tweeted that he spoke with China’s President Xi Jinping and that China would be “successful especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker and then gone.” 

At the time, sending supplies overseas may have seemed like the right thing to do. But it’s worth noting that this release of vital medical supplies came two days after several senators, including Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, offered to allocate congressional emergency funding for preventative health measures and research to ward off the virus in the United States—and President Donald Trump turned it down. “Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff, etc…” tweeted Murphy, “and they need it now.”

Trump would go on to call the virus the Democrats’ “new hoax” and deny that it posed a risk to Americans for weeks after that. 

How the tables have turned. As of Saturday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 103,321 cases of the coronavirus in the United States and 1,668 deaths, the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide. Hospitals across the country are now experiencing an unprecedented shortage of respirators and masks. Desperate nurses and doctors are taking to social media to show their need for protective equipment with the hashtag #GetMePPE, as they treat patients who are dying of the virus. 

On Wednesday, the Trump administration asked the international community for donations of equipment, including N-95 masks, gloves, respirators, and hand sanitizer. But even as his officials ask for foreign aid, as CNN points out, Trump has a very different public message. As he boasted during Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing at the White House: “We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday morning that Trump’s response at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic ultimately cost American lives. “His denial at the beginning was deadly,” Pelosi said. Trump’s continuous delay in “getting equipment to where it’s needed, is deadly.”

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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