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States spent $7B in spring on medical devices, PPE: report

States spent $7B in spring on medical devices, PPE: report
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States spent more than $7 billion on personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices such as ventilators and thermometers when the coronavirus pandemic first ravaged the country in the spring, according to an analysis published Saturday by The Associated Press

Through open-records requests, the AP tracked state government spending data from the first cases of COVID-19 in early 2020 to the start of the summer. 

According to the AP’s analysis, California spent the most on supplies out of any state in the early months of the pandemic — at least $1.5 billion — followed by Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington. 

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New York also reportedly spent several hundred million dollars on PPE and ventilators through November, though the AP noted it was not clear how much of this spending happened in the early months of the pandemic. 

The AP made the $7 billion total estimate despite minimal tracking of spending in some states, with the outlet noting that much of the PPE and medical equipment buying occurred “outside normal competitive bidding procedures.” 

J.P. Brady, senior buyer for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told the AP that his state did not initially track how much taxpayer money it used to pay for masks and gloves ordered, as the state was more concerned with getting large amounts of PPE as quickly as possible. 

“It was chaos, pandemonium,” Brady said. “None of us knew what we were doing.”

The AP also found that states gave millions of dollars to businesses that had not sold PPE up until the pandemic, including a Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer and an American tribal organization. 

While some medical equipment businesses benefited from the surge in sales, others reportedly lost millions of dollars after states canceled orders that did not meet delivery deadlines or specific product requests. 

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The demand for PPE and medical devices also led to a surge in prices, costing taxpayers millions of dollars, the AP reported. 

For example, the AP analysis found that N95 masks that filter out some air particles might have cost about 50 cents each prior to the pandemic. In the spring, when demand for the masks surged, states paid around $3 per mask on average, with some states paying as much as $10. 

While this initial spending panic has subsided, the AP noted that states have spent millions more this fall amid new surges in infections, with the country now totaling at 17.4 million COVID-19 cases and more than 313,000 deaths due to the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

Last month, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to increase the supply of PPE for health care workers, appropriating $10 billion for the government to purchase large quantities of masks, gloves, gowns and face shields. 

The bill would also create a $1 billion grant program to help small businesses “retool” their facilities to manufacture protective equipment on a larger scale.