Governors plead with Trump for more coronavirus supplies, testing
Governors pleaded with President Trump on Thursday for more federal help in getting the medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
While the Trump administration has boasted about the millions of test kits it has sent to labs across the country, governors said in a livestreamed teleconference call with the president that they don’t have enough chemicals, or reagents, to process the results. They also said hospitals in their states still don’t have enough masks, gowns or gloves to protect health workers on the front lines of the outbreak.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) sounded exasperated as she described the difficulty her state has faced in finding reagents that are needed to process coronavirus tests.
“We were for two weeks requesting reagents for our public health lab from [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], who pushed up to private suppliers, who kept canceling orders on us,” she said. Noem said her state finally got a shipment Thursday morning.
“I don’t want to be less of a priority because we’re a smaller state or less populated,” she added.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) voiced similar concerns.
“While you all are providing the test kits, we don’t have” the reagents or swabs needed to collect samples from patients, he said.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) also said labs in his state needed more reagents “so we can actually process the tests today.”
As the coronavirus rages on in the U.S., and hospitals and labs run out of critical supplies, states have turned to the national stockpile managed by the federal government for help. So far, they have received only a fraction of what they’ve asked for.
There were nearly 13,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. as of Thursday, but some experts think there may be thousands more that have gone undetected because of the slow pace of testing.
Hospitals are preparing for an onslaught of patients, as seen in other countries, but don’t have enough protective equipment for their doctors and nurses or respirators for patients.
Trump angered some governors during a call earlier this week when he said states should try getting their own supplies because it would be “faster.”
Federal officials argue the stockpile should only be used to fill the gap until states get what they need from the private sector.
Governors on Thursday’s call said they have not been able to find supplies for sale, in some cases because they were competing with the federal government or other states for the same items.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) expressed frustration that suppliers were more likely to sell to the federal government than to states, while New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) suggested state and federal officials should better coordinate on who has ordered what supplies.
“We took very seriously the push you made previously on one of these calls that we should not just rely on the stockpile, that we should go out and buy stuff and put in orders and try to create pressure on manufacturers and distributors,” Baker said. “And I got to tell you: Three big orders we lost to the feds.”
Multiple governors sought clarity on how Trump planned to use the Defense Production Act (DPA), which he invoked on Wednesday and allows the president to order increased manufacturing and distribution of critical supplies. But Trump has said that he does not intend to use those powers unless “necessary,” raising questions about how states should go about acquiring certain materials.
Trump urged Baker to try and independently acquire supplies before deferring to Vice President Pence, who attempted to explain the president’s reluctance to use the DPA.
“The president has activated the Defense Production Act, but he’s not initiated any other action underneath it,” Pence said. “Right now, what I can tell you is as the president has brought together leaders of business, and industry and supply chains, I think, Mr. President, that you put it well when you talk about the spirit in American business about wanting to ramp up voluntarily.”
Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said governors should ask for much-needed supplies through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or to look on the commercial market.
The livestream also offered a glimpse into how Trump conducts business. The president could be seen swiveling in his chair as governors spoke while Pence sat next to him jotting down notes.
When Noem was speaking, Trump leaned over to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and snapped his fingers to get Azar’s attention and suggest he answer her question. When Noem said she had two more things she wanted to raise, she was inadvertently disconnected from the call.
Trump earlier in the day held a press conference intended to tout developments on potential treatment for the coronavirus. But it was muddied by the president offering information that contradicted the head of the Food and Drug Administration and ended with a rant against the press, which Trump accused of “siding with China.”
As he closed the teleconference with governors, Trump urged them to reach out if they had further questions.
“Feel free to call me, the vice president, anybody at the table. Anybody in the room,” he said. “Except the media. Don’t call the media.”