Governors detail frustrations with Trump over COVID-19 supplies
Two governors told lawmakers on Tuesday that their states are still struggling to obtain COVID-19 supplies from the federal government, almost three months into the pandemic.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said they’re facing challenges procuring tests and masks, adding to concerns as they prepare for a potential second wave of the pandemic in the fall.
States get inaccurate answers from the federal government about when supplies will be coming, and deliveries are often late, if they come at all, the two governors told members of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
“Uncertainty about supplies, however, and the federal government’s role about directing the allocation of these supplies has undermined our ability to coordinate a testing strategy,” said Whitmer, who has sparred with President Trump over his administration’s response to the public health crisis.
While COVID-19 testing has improved significantly since the early days of the pandemic, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent flawed tests to state laboratories, it still isn’t where it needs to be to safely reopen the entire country and catch new cases before they become large outbreaks, experts say.
A large part of the problem has been the strained supply chain for items such as swabs, transport media, gloves and masks that are mostly made in China.
Governors nationwide have called on the Trump administration to take on a bigger role in addressing supply chain issues to build on recent improvements.
Whitmer on Tuesday said her state has the capacity to complete 25,000 tests a day but can’t because of shortages of testing supplies such as swabs.
“That’s the frustration I have and I’m confident many governors on both sides of the aisle have as well,” she said. “Testing is crucial to our ability to know how vast COVID-19 is in our states, to access if there is a second wave.”
The spread of COVID-19 is now slowing in Michigan due to aggressive social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, a stark reversal from when the state had one of the largest outbreaks in the country. More than 58,000 cases have been confirmed in the state, including 5,500 deaths.
Many experts warn that robust testing infrastructure must be in place by the fall, when a second wave of the coronavirus could hit alongside the flu season, threatening to overwhelm the health care system.
The Trump administration has tried to shore up the manufacturing of supplies. In late April, the president invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of swabs. Three companies were awarded contracts that month to manufacture 39 million masks through the end of July, and a facility in Maine will receive $75.5 million to double its monthly production of swabs to 40 million.
But not all governors say they’ve had difficulty on the supply front.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), the panel witness invited by Republicans on the subcommittee, said the supply chain has vastly improved in the past 90 days, adding that he hasn’t had any issues getting items.
“I think every governor recognizes that early on in this, the supply chain was weak. But it’s gotten stronger and stronger,” he said. “I have confidence in the supply chain that has been built up through the private sector and the CDC.”
Arkansas has confirmed more than 7,400 cases, including 133 deaths.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) added, “It is only fair to now acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been achieved over the last few weeks.”
“Nearly every state is now in a better position to test anybody they have determined to be a high priority,” he added.
However, both Whitmer and Polis said they need increased transparency from the federal government about what kinds of supplies will be sent to states and when.
Sometimes states receive the wrong information, the wrong supplies or not enough of the right supplies, the two governors said.
“We’d love a way where it’s very clear to the states exactly what they will and won’t get,” Polis said.
Colorado has confirmed more than 26,500 cases, including 1,450 deaths.
Polis said he’s had “a lot” of discussions with federal officials where he couldn’t get a yes or no answer on whether the government would be able to send masks or tests. Other times, he said, he would get “vague commitments.”
Both Polis and Whitmer said they’ve ended up in bidding wars with other states and even the federal government for testing supplies and protective equipment, which ultimately drives up costs for states that are already facing record budget shortfalls due to declining tax revenue during the pandemic.
“We have to compete against global demand for [personal protective equipment], also for testing,” Polis said. “The surprise element here is we’re competing against other states and sometimes our own federal government.”