US may use Defense Production Act to boost supplies of coronavirus protective gear

The Trump administration is considering using special executive powers to ramp up U.S. production of protective face masks and clothing to combat the domestic spread of coronavirus.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday that the administration may invoke the 1950 Defense Production Act, which was passed by Congress before the Korean War and gives the president the power to increase the production of materials for national security purposes, Reuters reported.

“We will use the Defense Production Act as necessary,” Azar said. “So that is the authority that we have and we intend to use to acquire anything we need to acquire.”

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There were more than 60 cases of the virus in the U.S. as of Friday night, including three patients who likely didn’t contract it abroad.

"We haven't lost anybody yet and hopefully we can keep that intact,” President Trump said Friday. This week, he tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the administration’s coronavirus task force.

Azar said the U.S. needs approximately 300 million N95 respirator masks for medical personnel working with the virus but he admitted the country only has a fraction of that number, Reuters reported.

“Very little of this stuff is apparently made in the States,” the Department of Homeland Security told Reuters. “So if we’re down to domestic capability to produce, it could get tough.”

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China controls “a lot of the raw materials as well as the manufacturing capacity,” Azar said, according to Reuters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.