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COVID creates shortages of an array of U.S. medical supplies By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Medical equipment is seen stored inside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., March 24, 202


By Timothy Aeppel

(Reuters) – Shortages of masks and gloves that marked the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic have spread to a host of other items needed at medical facilities in the United States, from exam tables and heart defibrillators to crutches and IV poles.

CME Corp., an international distributor of medical equipment, estimates that it takes up to five months to obtain certain types of exam tables. This is a significant improvement on the three- to six week wait before the pandemic.

“Right now, because of the supply chain stress that’s being caused by COVID, almost everything is delayed,” said Cindy Juhas, CME’s chief strategy officer. “A lot of the stuff we sell is not sitting in a warehouse where you just call and say send it over. It needs to be built.”

But shortages of raw materials, including plastics, metals, glass, and electronics, have hampered production.

Juhas stated that tight supply of electronic controllers and metal as well as the foam padding required to make exam tables are limiting their production.

The shortfalls – which coincides with a hospital staffing squeeze that is forcing some facilities to ration care during the latest surge in COVID cases – are part of a larger supply-chain disruption that has snarled the movement of goods around the world in the wake of the pandemic.

U.S. companies are often waiting to receive parts from abroad or waiting at jammed shipping ports. Last week, the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach announced a record 60 container vessels were waiting offshore to unload their goods

Perhaps the most obvious example of the effects that shortages have on the economy is in the auto industry. There are many cars parked outside factories awaiting computer chips.

Tight supplies mean higher prices, which has fueled fears of a wave of sustained inflation

CME is based in Warwick (Rhode Island) and closely monitors 100 of its largest suppliers. Prices on certain items have increased from 3% to 20% over the beginning of the year depending on what item. Juhas said that some producers raised prices by three times in the past year. Price increases usually occur at the beginning of each year.

A lot of items that are in limited supply do not have anything to do with COVID. CME has now made it three months since delivery of heart defibrillators used to take only two weeks.

“They normally have all the parts, so they put them together and put it on a truck,” she said. “But now they’re just waiting for parts.”

Even mundane items are snagged. Portable plastic toilets – used in hospital rooms so patients don’t have to walk to the bathroom – now are back-ordered three to four months. “That’s an item you usually can order and get right away,” said Juhas, who said she expects the larger array of supply problems to linger well into next year.

“And that’s with a lot of luck,” she added, “and with COVID getting under control.”

To be sure, some backlogs are easing. Producers like Horizon Scientific Inc (NYSE:) Corp., a subsidiary of Standex International, overwhelmed by the demand for special fridges and freezers to keep vaccines safe. This factory is located in Summerville in South Carolina. CME distributes the refrigerators.

CME is the distributor of the refrigerators. Brian Shaffer (the company’s marketing- and business development manager) said that it took three months for the larger 30-cubic-foot vaccine fridges to arrive – almost twice the time the company wanted. His explanation was that the vaccine refrigerators are still difficult to deliver due to all of their parts.

However, smaller vaccine refrigerators are now available for delivery to doctor’s offices or pharmacies. They can usually be delivered in 5-10 days.