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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said during Wednesday’s White House press briefing that he will be invoking the Defense Production Act to help make up for potential medical supply shortages as the US battles the coronavirus pandemic.

“Right after we finish this conference, I’ll be signing it and it’s prepared to go,” Trump said.

The Defense Production Act, first enacted in 1950, gives the president temporary power over private businesses to request or order them to increase the production of materials needed during a crisis. In this case, the president is likely to use his power to increase the country’s medical supplies.

Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday some doctors and nurses are already short on equipment such as gowns and gloves, and industry groups have been sounding the alarm with the Trump administration about possible shortages in supplies for several days, even weeks.

The major US lab industry group has also raised concerns with federal agencies over the past week about potential shortages of supplies, including N95 face masks and hand sanitizer.

CNN reported last month that the Trump administration was considering using the 1950 wartime law to expand the production of masks and protective gear to prevent the spread of the virus.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Defense Department will make available up to 5 million N95 masks and other personal protective equipment from US strategic reserves.

“The first 1 million masks will be available immediately,” he said.

He also said they are also prepared to distribute “up to 2,000 operational deployable ventilators for use as needed” the Department of Health and Human Services.