Daily Coronavirus Supply Shortage Roundup

21 mins read

April 8, 2020

MA HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders on Feds: “They take what we order.”

LA Times: “In Florida, a large medical system saw an order for thermometers taken away.”

President Trump’s failure to adequately prepare the nation for the coronavirus pandemic has forced states and hospitals to scramble for limited supplies. But now, even as the president demands that states fend for themselves, he is mobilizing the federal government to seize orders of critical equipment — exacerbating the shortages and leaving many wondering where the supplies have gone. 

The Strategic National Stockpile Depleted, No More Supply Shipments for States

House Committee On Oversight And Reform:  Inadequate Distribution of Personal Protective Equipment and Critical Medical Supplies to States

  • “Only 11.7 million N95 respirator masks have been distributed nationwide—less than 1% of the 3.5 billion masks that the Trump Administration estimated would be necessary in the event of a severe pandemic…. Only 7,920 ventilators have been distributed from the stockpile, even though a recent survey of 213 mayors—which did not include New York City, Chicago, or Seattle—identified a total estimated need of 139,000 ventilators.” [House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Press Release, 4/8/20]
  • “HHS staff stated that the Trump Administration has made its final shipments of personal protective equipment to states from the Strategic National Stockpile… According to HHS staff, most of these shipments were not based on states’ requests.  The first two shipments were allocated pro rata based on 2010 Census population data.  The third shipment—labeled the “final push”—does not appear to be based on population. With respect to N95 respirator masks, the document shows that states received either 64,450 or 120,900 respirators in this “final push.”  For example, both Vermont and Texas received 120,900 respirators.  Based on 2010 Census data, that is equivalent to roughly 193 respirators for every 1,000 residents in Vermont, but fewer than 5 respirators per 1,000 residents in Texas. [House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Press Release, 4/8/20]

But as States and Hospitals Struggle to Play Catch Up, the Trump Administration Sends the Feds to Seize Critical Supplies

Los Angeles Times: Hospitals Say Feds Are Seizing Masks And Other Coronavirus Supplies Without A Word

  • “Although President Trump has directed states and hospitals to secure what supplies they can, the federal government is quietly seizing orders, leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic…  The Federal Emergency Management Agency is not publicly reporting the acquisitions, despite the outlay of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, nor has the administration detailed how it decides which supplies to seize and where to reroute them.” [LA Times, 4/7/20]
  • “In Florida, a large medical system saw an order for thermometers taken away. And officials at a system in Massachusetts were unable to determine where its order of masks went. ‘Are they stockpiling this stuff? Are they distributing it? We don’t know,’ one official said. ‘And are we going to ever get any of it back if we need supplies? It would be nice to know these things.’” [LA Times, 4/7/20]

Business Insider: Officials In At Least 6 States Are Accusing The Federal Government Of Quietly Diverting Their Orders For Coronavirus Medical Equipment

  • “In March, President Donald Trump had told states to seek their own supplies and minimize their requests from the national stockpile, which has resulted in local authorities scrambling to place large orders of ventilators, masks, and other personal protective equipment… Since then, there have been multiple reports of FEMA or the wider federal government diverting thousands of pieces of equipment from the states that ordered them, without explanation.” [Business Insider, 4/8/20]

Talking Points Memo: What’s Up With The Feds Seizing PPE Shipments To States And Hospitals?

  • “This does not sound like the federal government outbid the county or forced it to sell but rather that the physical shipment was interdicted and seized by federal authorities…. There are two key issues to consider here. One is that the federal government is telling states that they are responsible for getting their own supplies and should only appeal to the federal government in emergencies… But at the same time federal authorities are seizing shipments that states, local governments and major medical organizations have purchased. At best this is a contradictory and poorly communicated policy.  It’s also very unclear just who is seizing the supplies, what they’re being used for or who is getting access to them. The assumption seems to be that they are being handed over to FEMA for distribution to other parts of the country… or whether they are being distributed to other parts of the country on a preferential basis.” [Talking Points Memo, 4/4/20]

Boston Globe: In State’s Intense Chase For Protective Equipment, Coronavirus Isn’t The Only Rival — The Feds Are, Too.

Massachusetts Secretary Of Health And Human Services Marylou Sudders: “They Take What We Order.” 

  • “In the span of several days… a team of state officials confirmed two separate orders last week: one for hundreds of N95 respirator masks and another promising shipments of 35 ventilators to Massachusetts, every week, for the ‘foreseeable future’… They represented victories, if relatively small ones compared to the millions of pieces of equipment the state is chasing. That is, until, it ran into a force seemingly as immovable as the novel coronavirus. ‘Force majeure,’ Sudders said Friday, citing the legal clause that translates to ‘superior force’ and typically allows parties to opt out of a contract due to unforeseen circumstances. In this case, that was the federal government exercising its authority over the state amid the pandemic, she said. ‘They take,’ Sudders said, ‘what we order.’” [Boston Globe, 3/27/20]
  • “The frustration spilled into public view Thursday, when the [Governor Charlie Baker] became animated in discussing the ‘incredibly messy thicket’ the state has had to navigate to get equipment. His administration has watched orders ‘evaporate,’ he vented… ‘I’m telling you, we’re killing ourselves trying to make it happen,’ Baker said… [Marylou] Sudders, who’s heading the state’s coronavirus command center, cited a shipment of 3 million masks that BJ’s Wholesale Club purchased and had landed in the Port of New York and New Jersey. The state, she said, had negotiated to buy them, until the federal government impounded them on March 18. The same day, the state had confirmed an order with the company MSC Industrial Supply for 400 masks, to be delivered on March 20, Sudders said. The federal government again stepped in — starting a trend that would become familiar when the state’s order for the ventilators also fell apart.” [Boston Globe, 3/27/20]

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear: “Our Biggest Problem Is That Just About Every Single Order That We Have Out There For PPE, We Get A Call Right When It’s Supposed To Be Shipped And It’s Typically The Federal Government Has Bought It.”

  • “Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear says his administration is doing everything it can to prepare hospitals to be inundated with cases of COVID-19, but nearly every time the state has placed an order for medical protective gear, the federal government has prevented its transfer… ‘Our biggest problem is that just about every single order that we have out there for PPE, we get a call right when it’s supposed to be shipped and it’s typically the federal government has bought it,’ Beshear said during a Saturday press conference. ‘It’s very hard to buy things when the federal government is there and anytime they want to buy it, they get it first.’” [WFPL, 4/4/20]

Denver Post: “Either Be In Or Out”: Feds Swooped In On Colorado’s Ventilator Order, Polis Says

  • “Colorado was making a deal with a manufacturer for an order of much-needed ventilators when the Federal Emergency Management Agency swooped in and took it themselves… Colorado had an order canceled for 500 ventilators, among other supplies, because the items were being bought by FEMA. A congressional source told CNN that Colorado was told it was not on the priority list and the state would have to find its own supplies.” [Denver Post, 4/4/20]
  • Governor Jared Polis: “We can’t compete against our own federal government… So either work with us, or don’t do anything at all. But this middle ground where they’re buying stuff out from under us and not telling us what we’re going to get, that’s really challenging to manage our hospital surge and our safety of our health care workers in that kind of environment.” [Denver Post, 4/4/20]

Echoes-Sentinel: Somerset County Ordered 35,000 Medical Masks. The Federal Government Seized The Whole Order.

  • “The federal government seized 35,000 face masks that were to be distributed to Somerset County medical workers, and nobody is quite sure where the shipment has gone. The Somerset County Office of Emergency Management was expecting the order of N95 masks and surgical masks to arrive Friday. Instead, the vendor called the office that afternoon to inform them that the order had been commandeered. The county was to distribute the protective equipment to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerville, as well as to first responders in county municipalities. Additional masks were to be used at a proposed COVID-19 testing site as yet to be launched by Somerset and Hunterdon counties.” [Echoes-Sentinel, 4/6/20]

New York Times: “[FEMA’s] Intervention Has Confused Some Local Officials… Who Have Watched As The Administration Has Repeatedly Called On States To Find Medical Supplies On Their Own.”

  • The New York Times published of reports that FEMA had usurped supplies ordered by states: “The intervention has confused some local officials and company executives who have watched as the administration has repeatedly called on states to find medical supplies on their own without relying on the federal government. But hundreds of hospitals continue to struggle with widespread shortages of test kits, protective gear for staff members and ventilators, according to a new report by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services.” [New York Times, 4/6/20]

NBC News: “Trump Has Insisted That The More Than $7 Billion Stockpile Of Medical Supplies Is Not There Simply To Be Deployed To States, But Also For The Federal Government To Use, Adding States Should Have Had Their Own Reserves.”

And Shortages Leave Hospitals Across the Country Without Access to Necessities

KHOU: Rural Texas Hospitals ‘Desperate’ For Medical Supplies Needed To Fight Coronavirus

  • John Henderson, President and CEO of Texas Organization Of Rural and Community Hospitals: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the critical need and shortages of our rural hospital members and their desperation… Most of every day trying to find PPE supplies, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer for our hospital members… I’ve got my tail kicked trying to be a purchasing officer.” [KHOU, 4/6/20]

Hartford Courant: Connecticut And Its Hospitals Grapple With Possible Shortages Of A Key Component Of COVID-19 Patient Care: Ventilators

USA Today: ‘Scotch Tape And Baling Wire’: How Some Hospitals And Companies Are Responding To Meet America’s Ventilator Shortage

KWCH12: Rural First Responders Ration Supplies With National PPE Shortage

NPR: States, Hospitals Say They’re Still Not Getting Vital Supplies To Fight COVID-19

Washington Post: Who Gets A Shot At Life If Hospitals Run Short Of Ventilators?

  • “While President Trump… dismiss[es] talk of shortages that would lead to rationing care or equipment, state officials and doctors in U.S. hotspots warn it is inevitable in some places — and that it is coming soon. If — or when — that point is reached, many hospitals would activate grim triage plans that would rank patients based on who is most likely to benefit from the intensive care…. Pregnant women would get extra priority “points” in most if not all plans, U.S. hospital officials and ethicists say… U.S. hospital officials, bioethicists and doctors involved in the closed-door discussions for drafting plans at their institutions say many critical details are still being debated even as the number of people on ventilators climbs higher each day.” [Washington Post, 4/7/20]

While Testing Shortages Persist, Making It Impossible to Curb Outbreak

Politico: “The United States Is Now Testing Nearly 700,000 People Each Week For The Coronavirus… That’s Not Enough To Catch Every Case Of The Disease Or To Provide The Kind Of Data Needed To Lift Social Distancing Measures And Allow People To Go Back To Work.”

  • “President Donald Trump and other officials are boasting that the United States is now testing nearly 700,000 people each week for the coronavirus. But that’s not enough to catch every case of the disease or to provide the kind of data needed to lift social distancing measures and allow people to go back to work. And because testing capacity remains inadequate, it’s unclear when we’ll get there. Labs nationwide are overwhelmed by patient samples flooding in as they continue to face a shortage of critical supplies. A rapid test described by Trump in mid-March as a “game changer” that would soon be available in doctors offices is still hard to come by for many Americans. And officials at some public and private labs are questioning the accuracy of new antibody tests that are designed to detect whether a person has ever been infected with the coronavirus — a crucial tool to understand the true scope of the U.S. outbreak.” [Politico, 4/7/20]

Bloomberg: U.S. Labs Face Crisis After Crisis Despite Improvements in Testing

  • “Production of new and better test kits has increased, but the pipeline now is besieged by new hurdles. Supplies such as swabs to collect samples and chemicals to process them are running short. Labs that don’t have the equipment or capacity to do enough testing are forced to send them to the big commercial players, which in turn face bottlenecks that can delay results for as long as two weeks.” [Bloomberg, 4/7/20]
  • “In the U.S., diagnostic testing for the novel coronavirus has become a massive logistical failure that has made it impossible to realize how much the virus has truly spread and how many it has sickened. More than 12,000 have died and 374,000 people have tested positive.” [Bloomberg, 4/7/20]

NBC News: Private Labs Do 85 Percent Of U.S. Covid-19 Tests But Still Struggle With Backlogs, Shortages

  • Spokesperson for the American Clinical Laboratory Association: “The challenges facing labs today should not be underestimated… There are widespread shortages of test kits, specimen collection materials, personal protective equipment and reagents. Currently, there is no established funding mechanism to support testing capacity now or in the future, and many labs are at risk of absorbing significant costs for uncompensated testing.” [NBC News, 4/8/20]
  • “Hospital chiefs said the delay in testing caused other problems. Patients stayed in hospital beds while waiting for results, reducing the availability for other patients; staff members used precious personal protective equipment in interactions with patients they may not have needed it for; and staff members were unable to determine whether they had contracted or been exposed to the virus in a timely manner.” [NBC News, 4/8/20]

NPR: Coronavirus Testing Backlogs Continue As Laboratories Struggle To Keep Up With Demand

  • “The problems started when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention required all testing to go through the agency. Widespread testing was further delayed because the test kits the agency distributed were defective. The CDC eventually resolved that problem. And the Food and Drug Administration finally made it easier for other tests to come on line. But by the time all the labs at hospitals, state health departments and private companies finally got geared up, the virus was already spreading widely. The White House also soon started promising far more testing than was really possible, causing demand to surge.” [NPR, 4/3/20]

Wall Street Journal: Shortage of Test Components Forces Labs to Beg, Borrow and Improvise

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