Some Northern Va. leaders upset with feds over preempted N95 order

What happened to thousands of N95 masks ordered for Loudoun Co.? (WTOP's John Domen)

The continuing shortage of personal protective equipment has led to bigger and more complicated hoops that officials have had to jump through in recent weeks, with some governors openly admitting to covert tactics in order to keep supplies from the federal government.

At the county level, that’s more difficult, and now WTOP has learned of at least one order that was seized by the feds. Under the terms of a declared national emergency, it’s legal.

WTOP can confirm that one order for at least 80,000 masks — made together by some counties in Northern Virginia — was canceled due to federal preemption.

The order, made April 8, was supposed to deliver 50,000 N95 masks to Arlington County and 30,000 to Loudoun County on April 14. The cancellation was made April 13.

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“They were for our front-line county workers,” said Loudoun County Supervisor Juli Briskman.

Those included employees with the county’s police and fire departments, as well as other departments engaged in social services. Both Loudoun and Arlington counties said they were ultimately able to procure masks from elsewhere.

“The county supply is good right now,” Briskman said. “We have a shortage of gowns but, otherwise, the county supply [of masks] is fairly good right now.”

A spokesman for Loudoun County said it wouldn’t be unusual for this to happen during a declared national emergency. Other county leaders are also downplaying the event, which happened a month ago.

But Briskman, along with Vice Chairman Koran Saines, both said it has led to extra hassles and wasted time that should have been avoided in the first place.

Saines told WTOP it was “ridiculous, disheartening and a morale buster.”

“I am fairly frustrated,” added Briskman, who said the Defense Production Act should have been implemented “so we don’t have to go through these sorts of exercises in order to have the supplies that will keep our residents and our employees safe. When we have to work on getting these orders and then they are either disappeared or we are sent to the back of the line, to me that’s a waste of resources.”

Loudoun County leaders said that aside from protective gowns, of which there is about a couple of weeks’ supply right now, it has enough protective equipment stockpiled to handle the ongoing pandemic. It’s the future that has Briskman worried though.

“I am very worried that if we have a second round and a third round of COVID-19, we’re going to be faced with these same issues,” she said.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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