House Democrats are causing a shortage in medical masks used to slow the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus by refusing to expand legal liability protections for manufacturers during public health emergencies.
As public health organizations grapple with impending surgical mask shortages, plenty of industrial masks that are ineffective at protecting against bodily fluids but act as armor against airborne particles such as the Wuhan virus are available but are not being supplied to doctors and nurses by manufacturers out of concern over frivolous lawsuits.
The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act protects medical device manufacturers over such lawsuits in times of public health emergencies such as the global pandemic over the Wuhan virus threatening the United States right now. The act, however, only extends to surgical not industrial masks. In turn, mask manufacturers are refraining from giving them out to medical providers who need them.
Last week, House Democrats stripped language from the emergency-response supplemental package that would have extended the PREP Act’s protections to industrial masks after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, a Democrat, objected.
Now, Senate Republicans are pushing new legislation that would include legal protections granted under the PREP Act for industrial mask makers, introduced by Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, called the Health Care Workforce Protection Act.
Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton endorsed the measure.
“Senator Cotton supports Senator Fischer’s bill to provide legal protections that mask manufacturers need to increase the supply of masks for medical professionals,” a Cotton spokesperson told The Federalist. “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats should pass the Fischer bill before Congress departs for recess.”
Pallone is also blocking similar legislation proposed in the House after its removal from the supplemental funding bill last week, keeping industrial masks from those susceptible to infection, such as health care workers, even as Pallone signed a bipartisan letter looking into medical device shortages just this week.
The New Jersey congressman indicated to the New York Post on Wednesday, however, that Democrats may be open to negotiating on the issue.
“The House will address N95 mask liability this week,” Pallone told the Post.