Part of the problem, experts say, is the supply chain. The U.S. has been making fewer masks, gowns and gloves domestically, and instead relied on importing those items from other countries.
During normal times, that's not an issue. But since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan and China manufactures roughly 50% of masks and respirators around the world, the country needed masks at home first.
What to know about Coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: Coronavirus map
"It's like a perfect storm for creating a problem around the world and also in the United States," Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health, told ABC News.
History may have similarly played a role in the United States' being unprepared for COVID-19. Unlike China, Singapore and South Korea, the U.S. wasn't hard hit by SARS in 2002 and 2003, meaning Americans never learned the lessons about novel coronaviruses that those countries did.
Given how far behind the United States is, and how many of our health systems are in short supply of PPE, the best we can hope for is to try to catch up, Ellerin said.