New documents released Thursday show the Federal Emergency Management Agency only fulfilled only a fraction of requests for equipment to fight the coronavirus, leaving states like Pennsylvania short hundreds of thousands of items needed to protect healthcare providers and others.
The FEMA documents were obtained by the Democrat-controlled House Oversight Committee. They include requests from states in Region III, which covers Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
States requested protective equipment like N95 respirators, gloves, and masks needed for health care workers and first responders.
But while FEMA fulfilled nearly all of Pennsylvania’s requests for face shields, the state is still in need of an enormous amount of other gear. For example, the agency supplied just over half of the face/surgical masks requested – leaving the state short 253,688.
“The new documents we are releasing today confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals 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,” said Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY).
A FEMA spokesperson said the agency acknowledged that the Strategic National Stockpile of requests alone can’t fulfill all the requests.
“Therefore, the federal government will exhaust all means to identify and attain medical and other supplies needed to combat the virus,” the spokesperson said. "Additionally, FEMA is expediting movement of critical supplies from the global market to medical distributors in various locations across the United States." The agency has flown in supplies from Asia, delivering 80 tons of protective equipment for use in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut since March 29. "FEMA has scheduled additional flights and is adding more daily.”
The agency spokesperson said it’s deploying PPE in “the most equitable way for a nationwide response.
“High transmission areas were prioritized, and allocations were based on population, not on quantities requested,” the spokesperson said. “Because of the finite supply of PPE in the commercial supply chain, SNS-held product is prioritized for the highest-risk healthcare personnel. Jurisdictions receiving allocations include all 50 states, 4 large metropolitan areas (New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles County and Washington, D.C.) and 8 island jurisdictions. The allocation strategy is based on a pro rata formula that is proportionate to the population of each jurisdiction, based on 2010 U.S. Census data.”
The shortage drew criticism from Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who said the documents show “how unprepared the Trump Administration was for this pandemic.”
The statement blasted the administration for "ignoring early warning signs that could have provided valuable time to prepare, including by ramping up production of critical medical supplies. ... Every state is struggling with similar critical shortages of respirators and other personal protective equipment and medical supplies; no one has enough, including the federal government.”
Casey also urged President Trump to “focus on exercising his authority under the Defense Production Act to ensure that domestic production ramps up.” Democrats have faulted Trump for not using the act, which allows the government to mandate production of critcial supplies.
In a statement of his own, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey echoed the need for greater access to PPE, ventilators and test kits. He said that the funding Congress passed through last week’s multi-trillion dollar aid package is “intended to address the shortfalls in Pennsylvania.”
“My staff is in regular contact with the Governor’s office and Pennsylvania healthcare providers actively troubleshooting and directing traffic as needed,” Toomey said in the statement. “We will continue to aggressively advocate for Pennsylvania’s health care providers until they get the materials they need.”
Pennsylvania currently has 7,016 COVID-19 cases.