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 WarrenDemocratic senators ask Pompeo to provide coronavirus aid to Palestinian territories Seth Meyers returning to late-night TV with 'hybrid episodes' Biden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll MORE and Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Energy: Critics blast EPA move as 'license to pollute' during pandemic | Trump expected to roll back Obama mileage standards| Group plans to sue over rollback of water law Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official's virus disinformation doesn't violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls Senators urge FCC, DOJ to combat coronavirus robocalls MORE, as well as Democratic Massachusetts Reps. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealProcedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus Judge puts new hold on Democrats' lawsuit seeking Trump tax returns MORE, James McGovernJames (Jim) Patrick McGovernPresident Trump: Tell Saudi Arabia to free Raif Badawi MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment Democratic candidates gear up for a dramatic Super Tuesday MORE, Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchMA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment Democrats press World Bank chief on meeting with Ukrainian president amid Trump pressure Biden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements MORE, William Keating, Joseph Kennedy, Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkPelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid Democrat says House vote on trillion aid deal could fall to Friday MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment MORE, Seth MoultonSeth MoultonAsian American lawmaker warns of fear of racism over coronavirus stigma Pressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill MORE, Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill Pressley, Tlaib introduce bill providing .5B in emergency grants for the homeless MORE and Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanMA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment Democratic candidates gear up for a dramatic Super Tuesday MLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues 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. 

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The letter comes as several states  — including New York, Washington state and Louisiana — have asked President TrumpDonald John TrumpCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House 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. 

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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.