MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment

MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment
© Greg Nash

A group of Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday pressed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar on the status of the state’s formal request for personal protective equipment (PPE) from the federal government amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

In a letter to Azar and assistant HHS secretary Robert Kadlec, Democratic Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenProgressive Mondaire Jones wins NY primary to replace Nita Lowey Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel Biden campaign announces second round of staff hires in Arizona MORE and Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten smog standards amid pressure from green groups | Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects| Russian mining giant reports another fuel spill in Arctic Democrats split on Trump plan to use development funds for nuclear projects GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE, as well as Democratic Massachusetts Reps. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPandemic highlights need for federal long-term care insurance Supreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress Five takeaways from PPP loan data MORE, James McGovernJames (Jim) Patrick McGovernHouse revives floor amendments The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Will Trump's plan to reopen the economy work? President Trump: Tell Saudi Arabia to free Raif Badawi MORE, Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchHillicon Valley: UK bans Huawei from 5G networks | Shipt workers to strike over pay structure | Democrat presses Google, Apple over foreign transparency House Democrat presses Google, Apple to increase transparency around foreign-owned apps The Hill's Campaign Report: Jacksonville mandates face coverings as GOP convention approaches MORE, William Keating, Joseph Kennedy, Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkHouse pushes back schedule to pass spending bills Gun control group rolls out House endorsements Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid MORE, Seth MoultonSeth MoultonHouse panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Democrats expect Russian bounties to be addressed in defense bill MORE, Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOver 570 women registered to run for office, topping 2018 record Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue MORE and Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanDemocrats on House Armed Services panel 'dismayed and gravely concerned' with Esper The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Pfizer's Mikael Dolsten says vaccine development timeline being cut in half; House poised to pass 4 billion relief package MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment MORE asked for an update on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s request for protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). 

“Health care providers in the Commonwealth have been working around the clock to meet the urgent demands of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID19) public health emergency. We urge you to grant the request without delay,” they wrote. 


The letter comes as several states  — including New York, Washington state and Louisiana — have asked President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pitches Goya Foods products on Twitter Sessions defends recusal: 'I leave elected office with my integrity intact' Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff MORE to use federal resources to manufacture and distribute protective equipment such as N95 masks, protective gloves, face masks, eye protection and surgical gowns, among other items due to a national shortage. 

On Thursday, The New York Times first reported that nurses all over the country are pleading for face masks on social media. 

According to the lawmakers, the MDPH’s request for the supplies came on March 5, shortly after the state had confirmed the first two cases of COVID-19. Since then, the department claims that they have received only 10 percent of the equipment that they have requested. This shortage, they add, is putting frontline healthcare workers at risk for contraction. 

“As these cases climb, Massachusetts hospitals are facing or are imminently anticipating shortages of personal protective equipment needed to ensure that front line workers do not risk infection or contribute to the spread of COVID-19. 7 In some cases, Massachusetts hospitals are resorting to reusing N95 respirator masks in order to conserve their limited supplies,” they said. 

The lawmakers concluded their appeal to Azar by asking the secretary if he believes that the federal government should use its power under the Defense Production Act to force American private industries to start making equipment, therefore reducing the shortage. 


On Wednesday, President Trump announced during a press conference that he was invoking the Defense Production Act, seemingly in favor of using his power to spur equipment production on a massive scale. However, he later tweeted that he invoked the act as a precaution, should the U.S. enter into a dire scenario. 

The Massachusetts lawmakers are among the many governors and congressional Democrats who have expressed frustration with the federal government’s response to combatting the coronavirus. 

Earlier on Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) argued that the Trump administration needed needed to step in because the states could not procure the necessary equipment on their own. 

“Every state is shopping for ventilators. We‘re shopping for ventilators. We literally have people in China shopping for ventilators, which is one of the largest manufacturers. So this is a major problem,” Cuomo said at his daily news conference.

"We're going to need protective equipment and hospitals. We are going to need ventilators. And that is something that a state can't do but the federal government can do," Cuomo added.