The U.S. State Department shipped 17.8 tons of donated coronavirus medical supplies to China seven weeks ago, when health experts and some American lawmakers were already seeking federal action to prepare the country for the disease.
The massive shipment to China included medical masks, gowns and respirators, now in desperately short supply across America. The supplies were contributed by American companies and nonprofits, according to a U.S. Agency for International Development official.
The State Department touted its aid to China in a press release Feb. 7, three weeks after the first COVID-19 case emerged in Washington state. The statement said the agency was prepared to spend $100 million on the fight against the disease in China and other foreign countries. That was the same day the World Health Organization sounded an alert that such supplies were in critically short supply around the globe.
President Donald Trump predicted that day in a tweet that China would be “successful” in vanquishing the illness, “especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker and then gone.”
A desperate U.S. airlifted 80 tons of medical supplies from China to America on Sunday. Another 21 flights are planned, The New York Times reported.
The plane delivered 130,000 N95 masks, 1.8 million face masks and gowns, 10 million gloves, and thousands of thermometers for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, said a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The gear is a small contribution to what’s needed.
State Department officials, responding to a question at a news briefing last week asking whether the U.S. now regrets sending the supplies to China, pointed out that the shipment came from “private donors,” not the government.
Even before the supplies were sent to China, U.S. lawmakers were calling on the Trump administration to make preparations to deal with the spreading disease in America, noted Mother Jones, which was the first to report the aid to China.
Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and other lawmakers offered to allocate emergency funding for early health measures and research to address coronavirus in the U.S., but the offer was rejected by the White House. Murphy’s observation that such measures were needed immediately turned out to be prophetic.
Ten days ago, Trump snapped at governors pleading for supplies: “The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping,” he said. “We’re not a shipping clerk.”
The Trump administration has since begun pleading with the international community for supply donations, including N95 masks, gloves, respirators and hand sanitizer.
COVID-19 cases in the U.S. now top 145,000 cases, with 2,500 deaths.
CORRECTION: This article previously misstated the quantity of supplies the U.S. shipped to China as 17.8 million tons; it is 17.8 tons.