During his daily press briefing April 3, Dr. Nirav Shah from the Maine CDC delivered a stark warning about the shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Our current situation, he said, is like “we’ve got an umbrella and we’re in a hurricane.”

That grim analogy reinforces what nurses, doctors, and first responders have been saying for weeks now. Maine’s health care workers are on the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus, treating patients with the most severe cases of COVID-19 while putting themselves at risk of infection — particularly if they lack the basic equipment to protect themselves. Over 40 health care workers in Maine have already tested positive for COVID-19. Our country owes it to them to produce and supply the PPE to help ensure health care workers are safe, but as the number of cases continues to grow in Maine and across the country, we’re still waiting for meaningful action from the federal government.

The Washington Post reported that Maine had only received 5% of the N95 masks requested from the federal government, and Dr. Shah suggested that there might not be additional shipments any time soon. The Trump Administration is leaving states like Maine to fend for themselves, bidding against each other for scarce supplies and increasing the risk that a smaller state like Maine loses out when competing against states like New York and California.

COVID-19 is a national crisis, and we need a national response to address it. I’m glad that Congress was able to come together to pass crucial economic relief legislation, but anyone who thinks that is sufficient to confront the growing crisis is ignoring reality. Without adequate PPE, this crisis will only get worse.

We cannot defeat this virus without strong and sweeping action from the federal government to bolster our nation’s medical community. The Trump Administration should not limit its use of the Defense Production Act to ventilators — it should immediately use its authority to begin producing PPE for health care workers across the country. Maine Senator Angus King and Representative Chellie Pingree have cosponsored the Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act, which would require President Trump use the Defense Production Act to secure and coordinate manufacturing of key supplies, and if I were in the Senate, I would join them in supporting the bill so that our health care workers get the equipment they need.

In addition to greatly increasing our production of PPE, the federal government can do more to mobilize the resources of the federal government to support the medical community. This is especially true in rural communities that often have fewer health care workers and lack ventilators and ICU beds. Maine is one of the most rural states in the country, and while COVID-19 has not hit some of our rural communities yet, we need to prepare now.

The federal government should continue to increase funding for community health centers to allow them to serve more patients. And for Mainers who cannot easily get to a hospital, the federal government should also continue to expand access to mobile testing centers and clinics and fund telehealth services through programs that connect rural communities with health care providers via telemedicine.

Here in Maine, we’re doing what we can to address this critical shortage. In the State Legislature, we passed coronavirus response measures that expanded unemployment benefits, increased access to lifesaving health care through expanded telehealth services and access to more medical professionals, provided millions of dollars to help the state respond, and public health officials are working tirelessly to secure more resources. Maine people and businesses are also stepping up to the plate, donating their stockpiles of PPE or changing their production lines to produce masks, gowns, and face shields.

But a pandemic of this size and severity requires a stronger response from the federal government. The health and safety of our neighbors and our communities should be our top priority — nothing is more important.

This is a time for leadership. I will continue to do whatever I can to elevate the voices of Mainers who are pleading for more action from the federal government. We cannot afford half-measures right now, people’s lives are depending on it.

Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is the speaker of the Maine House and a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

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