| March 10, 2020
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, blamed House Democrats for the shortage of protective masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, saying they blocked a measure that would have given mask manufacturers legal immunity if doctors using them got sick and thereby crimped production.
“It is vitally important that we give this kind of legal protection to those manufacturers,” Cotton said on Fox and Friends Tuesday. “That we care more for public health and our great doctors and nurses rather than the ambulance-chasing lawyers who have Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in their back pocket.”
The Trump administration and manufacturers of respirator face masks wanted a provision added to the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill signed last week to protect manufacturers from legal recourse if doctors and nurses who wear the masks get sick while treating coronavirus patients.
“But unfortunately, behind closed doors, the Democrats killed a vital provision to protect our great doctors and nurses,” Cotton said.
Republican congressman Don Bacon proposed an amendment to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act that would give manufacturers legal immunity, but Pelosi and fellow Democrats said the provision would be too expansive and would cover too many products.
Healthcare providers can use two different kinds of protective masks, though only one manufacturer has legal immunity. While the makers of the type of mask most often used in hospitals cannot be faulted in lawsuits if the providers get sick from treating patients, the second type of mask, commonly used on construction sites, does not come with such protection.
Cotton said “ambulance-chasing lawyers” would be eager to sue the manufacturers in the event that healthcare providers catch the illness and urged Congress to take a bill to the floor this week that would give manufacturers legal immunity.
“[Democrats] put huge fees for ambulance-chasing lawyers ahead of the safety of our doctors and nurses and, therefore, ahead of public safety,” Cotton said. “That’s a disgrace, and we need to fix it now.”
A sense of panic over the virus has led to hoarding masks that healthcare providers need, though Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other members of the Trump administration warned that people are actually putting doctors and nurses in danger by buying too many masks.
“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” the surgeon general tweeted last month. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
Nearly 750 people in the United States have contracted the virus, and 26 have died. While members of the White House coronavirus task force have been criticized for downplaying the threat of the virus to the general population, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine expert Nancy Messonnier said in February that further spread of the virus is inevitable and that “it could be bad.”