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National Virus Supply Stockpiles Must Be Created

As the coronavirus epidemic hit full stride, Americans learned to our dismay that the nation lacked adequate supplies of COVID-19 test kits, personal protective gear such as face masks, medical ventilators and other necessities for dealing with a massive health care emergency.

To their enormous credit, federal and state officials scrambled to remedy the situation. Companies such as car makers switched assembly lines to manufacture ventilators. Alcoholic beverage companies churned out hand sanitizer. A well-known pillow company began making masks.

It appears that, with the notable exception of virus test kits, we now have all we need.

But there will be a next time. Will we be ready then?

A consortium of states, led by New York, is taking no chances. They plan to set up their own stockpile of medical supplies and equipment. In addition to the Empire State, participants include Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Good for officials in those states for desiring to be ready — but theirs is the wrong approach.

What is needed is an adequate national stockpile augmented by a transportation plan capable of getting supplies and equipment where it is needed, with the utmost urgency.

COVID-19 hit New York hardest. Of the 76,706 U.S. deaths caused by the virus and reported by Friday, 20,828 were in that state. It is understandable that leaders there and in nearby states would be worried about another viral attack.

But what if the next one is centered in, say, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver or Miami? How much good will the Northeast consortium’s stockpile do?

A national anti-disease arsenal — prepared for a variety of assaults, not just something similar to COVID-19 — is the best safeguard for all Americans.

We had one, but much of its equipment and supplies were depleted during another virus outbreak about a decade ago. No one thought to replace items removed then.

That was an inexcusable mistake, of course, and it explains why some governors may be reluctant to rely on Washington in the future.

Still, a national stockpile — perhaps with regular, conscientious congressional oversight — is the logical way to go. President Trump and the current Congress should begin setting up such a system.

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