Records Reveal Few Medical Supplies Have Gone to States

Medical personnel remove personal protective equipment Thursday in Brooklyn, New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Five states and Washington, D.C., have received less than 10% of the critical personal protective equipment they requested from the federal government, according to records released Thursday by the House Oversight Committee. 

Last month, Peter Gaynor, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, briefed members of the House committee and warned that the process for fulfillment of equipment was still slowly coming online for items like N95 masks and gloves, both of which are in desperate need by doctors, nurses and EMTs combatting the Covid-19 pandemic on the frontlines of hospitals throughout the nation.

But two weeks have passed since that briefing and the outbreak has surged in the U.S., with pressure growing on hospitals and health care providers to care for a massive influx of patients. As of Thursday afternoon, there are more than 226,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. and more than 5,300 people have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The House Oversight Committee released FEMA documents Thursday that are specific to one region that includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

All told, states in the region requested 5.2 million N95 masks but received just 445,000, or less than 10% of the requested number, the records show. Glove fulfilment orders were even more abysmal with 194 million pairs requested and only 991,000 received as of March 30, which is less than 1% of those requested.

All five states and the nation’s capital have also asked for 15,000 body bags but so far have received none, according to the documents.

FEMA did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.  

In a statement, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said the newly released documents confirm the warnings governors and medical professionals have given the Trump administration for weeks.

“They do not have enough personal protective equipment and medical supplies and the administration has provided only a tiny fraction of what they desperately need,” the New York Democrat said.

FEMA reported to the White House on March 28 that it had so far delivered some 26 million surgical masks, 5.2 million face shields and more than 8,000 ventilators across the U.S. The National Guard also has 17,000 of its members assisting with delivery of those supplies, but relief has been slow for the five states at the center of Thursday’s records release.

In Virginia, for example, where more than 100,000 face shields for medical professionals have been requested, just under 70,000 have been received. The state has only seen 7% of its N95 masks request fulfilled, while it has received none of its requested 500,000 testing swabs.

There are notable discrepancies between states. Just across the Potomac River from Virginia, in Maryland, hospitals received 26% of their requested N95 masks. In addition, 70% of Maryland’s requested ventilators have been provided. Virginia has not received any ventilators, however, according to FEMA’s records, although the state did not appear to ask for them yet. A representative for the commonwealth did not immediately return request for comment. 

In the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia tristate area alone, there are more than 5,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and just under 90 deaths.

To shore up supplies, FEMA has recommended reusing personal protective equipment in and sanitizing equipment despite the inherent risks such recycling poses for health care workers.

Suggestions like this are particularly egregious, according to Chairwoman Maloney, because the Health and Human Services Department admitted to Congress in January that it knew then the nation’s stockpile of N95 masks had not been sufficient to address a pandemic for quite some time.

During a White House coronavirus taskforce briefing Wednesday, President Donald Trump admitted that the strategic national stockpile of medical supplies was nearly entirely depleted but blamed it on direct shipments to hospitals throughout the U.S. and the Obama administration.

After much back and forth, Trump used the Defense Production Act late last month to spur production of ventilators by General Motors. This week, the president said the roughly 10,000 ventilators in reserve would remain right there until private companies ramp up production.

But late Thursday, after the documents were published, Trump announced that he would order General Electric, Vyaire Medical, Medtronic, ResMed and Hill-Rom to begin producing ventilators under the Defense Production Act.

 “Today’s order will save lives by removing obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators,” Trump said in a statement Thursday.

Previously, Trump has suggested the U.S. could manufacture or otherwise obtain 100,000 additional ventilators by June, but FEMA officials told members of the House Oversight Committee this week that with just 9,500 ventilators in the strategic national stockpile, they expect only 3,200 more to be added by mid-April. 

During his regular coronavirus press conference Thursday in New York – the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak, where the virus has ravaged the city and pushed hospitals and their workers to capacity – Governor Andrew Cuomo said he didn’t think the federal government was in a position to provide more ventilators.

“Our attitude here is that we are on our own,” the Democratic governor said.

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