The Federal response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been unpredictable and inadequate to meet the needs of states, cities and hospitals seeking supplies. Nowhere is this chaos more evident than in the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies throughout the country. Efficient distribution of PPE and tests is essential to protect front line health workers, limit the spread of the virus and help the country reopen the economy safely. Yet the Trump administration’s response has been incoherent and inconsistent not unlike Trump’s daily press briefings.
Reports that federal authorities are confiscating supplies of PPE from states raise questions of whether the Trump administration is merely disorganized or if political motives are at play. The CEO of Prestige Ameritech, a PPE manufacturer was a guest on Steve Bannon’s podcast and and shortly after, the White House explicitly directed FEMA to award them a $9.5 million contract, raising questions about the transparency of the contract process. Throughout March and April, reports emerged that states, hospitals and cities were pitted against each other and even the Federal government to purchase PPE and testing supplies. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has taken the drastic step of having the National Guard protect their supply of tests at an undisclosed location.
As states and local authorities come up with creative ways to procure PPE and testing supplies, states have formed alliances to decide collectively about reopening their economies because there has been no plan at the federal level. A robust system for testing and contact tracing is an essential component of reopening in addition to efficient distribution of PPE . The chaotic response so far gives little assurance that the ongoing response will be any better.
The CARES Act provides funds to hospitals and physicians to purchase PPE and testing supplies, but while there is funding, there is also a lack of coordination and support by the executive branch that undermines this law. Congress must act swiftly and decisively to address the disorganized and disjointed Federal management of this crisis.