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 WarrenThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate to vote on elections bill Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault MORE and Edward MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden risks break with progressives on infrastructure Ron Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory MORE, as well as Democratic Massachusetts Reps. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Republicans open new line of attack on IRS Ireland, loved by Biden, is obstacle to tax deal MORE, James McGovernJames (Jim) Patrick McGovernJournalism watchdog files criminal complaint against Saudi crown prince Democrats call for relief package to waive taxes on unemployment benefits Biden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis MORE, Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchOvernight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners GOP downplays Jan. 6 violence: Like a 'normal tourist visit' GOP's Gosar defends Jan. 6 rioter, says she was 'executed' MORE, William Keating, Joseph Kennedy, Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkPelosi signals no further action against Omar Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias Pelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement MORE, Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOcasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package America must keep its promise to Afghan translators High-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress MORE, Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyThe Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them It's past time we elect a Black woman governor House Republicans introduce resolution to censure the 'squad' MORE and Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanDemocrats introduce bill allowing college athletes to organize Democrats ask Facebook to abandon 'Instagram for kids' plans Democrats urge Facebook to reverse WhatsApp privacy update 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 TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster 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.