DC, Maryland and Virginia face medical supply shortfall

Medical staff and volunteers from Children’s National Hospital work at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site for children age 22 and under at Trinity Washington University on April 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has only provided a fraction of the medical equipment requested by D.C., Maryland and Virginia to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, according to newly released documents from a congressional committee.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said the documents reflect “urgent warnings” from the nation’s governors and health care professionals, suggesting the Trump administration “has provided only a tiny fraction of what they desperately need.”

The committee released information on the number of specific pieces of equipment requested and what was received, as of Monday. Among the findings:

  • D.C. requested 1,132,478 N95 respirators, the most effective masks to protect health care workers against the virus. It had received 5,520.
  • D.C. had requested 10,000 test kits, but had not received any.
  • Virginia requested 2,214,388 N95 masks, and received 263,032.
  • Virginia requested 500,000 swabs, and had not received any.
  • Maryland requested 421,532 N95 masks, and received 110,240.
  • Maryland requested 15,000 body bags, and had not received any.

“The president must act immediately to take all steps within his authority to get personal protective equipment and medical supplies to our nation’s front-line responders, who are risking everything to save their fellow Americans,” Maloney said in a statement released by the committee.

The committee said the documents it released Thursday are from FEMA Region III, which includes Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

For the region overall, the committee said D.C. and the states requested:

  • 5.2 million N95 respirators, and received 445,000.
  • 194 million pairs of gloves, and received 991,000.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called the committee’s findings “disturbing” but said they only confirm a problem officials in the D.C. region knew about.

“We’ve been screaming for weeks now about severe shortages in both testing equipment and personal protective equipment,” he said, noting that he and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., spoke with dozens of health care leaders on Thursday.

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“The major theme was, ‘Please, get us some more personal protective equipment,'” Van Hollen said. “So the people who are on the front lines can protect themselves while they’re trying to save lives.”

Van Hollen said he and members of the Maryland congressional delegation plan to speak with a regional FEMA administrator on Friday, and will take up issues highlighted in the House panel’s report.

The committee said various lawmakers were briefed by officials from FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday and Wednesday.

A statement from the committee said that lawmakers were informed Monday that about 9,500 ventilators remained in the Strategic National Stockpile, and that by the week of April 13, only about 3,200 more ventilators would be acquired.

President Donald Trump said this week that “nobody” predicted a shortage of ventilators, and pointed out that General Motors and Ford are now working to produce them.

Trump did not place FEMA in charge of coordinating the federal response to the novel coronavirus outbreak until about two weeks ago. HHS had led the response before that.

A FEMA spokesperson released a statement to WTOP in response to the committee’s report.

The federal government “will exhaust all means to identify and attain medical and other supplies needed to combat the virus,” the statement said. “FEMA and our interagency partners are working to meet demands for supplies through new acquisition, DOD allocation of Strategic National Stockpile sources.”

FEMA also said that as of Thursday, the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) has delivered or is currently shipping 11.6 million N95 respirators, 26 million surgical masks, 5.2 million face shields, 4.3 million surgical gowns, 22 million gloves, 132,000 coveralls and 8,100 ventilators.

FEMA has also been coordinating daily flights from overseas to bring large amounts of medical supplies to states and cities across the country.

The committee noted that in its discussions this week, FEMA officials said that domestic manufacturers are stepping up production of personal protective equipment, but “those pieces are not moving fast enough for any of us.”

Maloney’s committee also said they were told that trying to get enough masks on the open market was like “chasing rabbits in an open field.”

Here’s a breakdown of all pieces of equipment requested by D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to information provided by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform:

D.C. medical supplies
Maryland medical supplies.
Virginia medical supplies.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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