Hospitals in the New York City area are turning to a private distributor to airlift millions of protective masks out of China. The U.S. military is flying specialized swabs out of Italy. And a Chicago-area medical supply firm is taking to the skies as well — because a weekslong boat trip across the ocean just won’t do.

The race to import medical supplies reflects a nationwide panic over a dwindling supply of the masks, gowns and other protective gear that health care workers need amid the growing coronavirus pandemic. Demand is outstripping what’s available due to a damaged supply chain heavily reliant on China and a struggling Strategic National Stockpile. U.S. manufacturing giants like 3M have not yet made up the difference.

A sweeping

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