Healthcare professionals responding to the COVID-19 outbreak are burning through heaps of face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment. However, since most of the medical protective gear used in the U.S. is manufactured in China, hospital operators have started telling their employees to use their supplies judiciously even if they are well-stocked at the moment.

Hand halting the coronavirus.

Image source: Getty Images.

Hospital system operators are also warning their employees to keep their eyes on supply levels of vital drugs because China is a key supplier of many active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). For example, hospitals running low on essential anesthetics that are hard to find should reschedule elective surgeries and preserve their available supplies for emergencies.

So far, the FDA has reported a shortage of just one unidentified drug sold in the U.S., and the agency emphasized that there were available alternatives for it. But the agency has identified around 20 drugs containing APIs sourced entirely from China. Fortunately, the FDA doesn't consider them critical.

Play it safe

The COVID-19 outbreak isn't a reason to panic, but anyone who relies on a steady supply of a prescription medication should probably not wait until the last minute to order their next refill, in case there are temporary supply disruptions. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA 2.66%) is the world's largest manufacturer of generic drugs, and a lot of those drugs are manufactured in India from API's that Teva sources from China.

Earlier this month, the government of India restricted the export of 10 APIs and any drugs that contain those ingredients. Those restrictions are meant to ensure domestic access to medications that country produces, and aren't complete export bans, at least for now.