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 WarrenOn The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Biden to nominate Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary: report Bottom line MORE and Edward MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE, as well as Democratic Massachusetts Reps. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOvernight Health Care: Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices | Sturgis rally blamed for COVID-19 spread in Minnesota | Stanford faculty condemn Scott Atlas Trump announces two moves aimed at lowering drug prices IRS races to get remaining stimulus checks to low-income households MORE, James McGovernJames (Jim) Patrick McGovernOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts House goes postal for one day The Hill Interview: Colombian President Duque calls for multilateral COVID-19 solutions MORE, Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Top general negative for coronavirus, Pentagon chief to get tested after Trump result l Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers MORE, William Keating, Joseph Kennedy, Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last MORE, Seth MoultonSeth MoultonUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Democratic lawmakers lambast Trump over Esper firing as GOP remains mum MORE, Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyGOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' Pelosi faces caucus divisions in Biden era Record number of Black women elected to Congress in 2020 MORE and Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanEthics panel finds Massachusetts Democrat didn't violate rules Democrats 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 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 TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit 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.