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WARWICK, RI – Passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act has cleared way to provide additional personal protective equipment, PPE mask, supplies to first responders and medical personnel facing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The bill, which is phase II of the Congressional response to the pandemic and was signed into law by the President on Wednesday, contains a provision based on The Health Care Workforce Protection Act introduced last year by Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), Don Bacon (R-NE) and Paul Tonko (D-NY). That bill aimed to bolster national biopreparedness by expanding access to critical respirators, according to Langevin’s office.
“We have a duty to keep the nurses, doctors, and first responders who are confronting COVID-19 safe,” said Langevin. “I’m proud that legislation I introduced will help get more essential medical equipment in their hands soon. I will continue to fight to make important supplies available to ensure the health of workers and patients and prevent further spread.”
Amid the COVID-19 public health crisis, there have been widespread reports of shortages of equipment such as respirators in Rhode Island and communities across the country. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act will eliminate red tape and enable manufacturers of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-certified respiratory protective devices to provide their products to hospitals, clinics and other medical providers in need.
Speaking at a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence said:
“[W]e’re grateful that the legislation passed by the House of Representatives includes liability protection for N95 masks produced by companies like 3M in Minnesota, by Honeywell. Literally tens of millions of masks are produced every year for industrial purposes, for construction. But the health experts say they can be used just as readily to protect health care workers from respiratory ailments.”
Previously, only FDA-approved items were eligible for PREP Act coverage, which provides federal liability protections for manufacturers of items the Department of Health and Human Services deems necessary for public health emergency response. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges the use of respirators in order to keep workers safe in public health emergencies with airborne hazards such as COVID-19, NIOSH-certified N95 respirators not intended for use as surgical masks could not be sold directly to hospitals or other healthcare providers before passage of Wednesday’s legislation.