by James A. Bacon
Virginia has received only a fraction of the medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile it needs to fight the COVID-19 virus, according to documents released by the House Committee on Oversight and reform.
“The new documents we are releasing today confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals for weeks — they do not have enough personal protective equipment and medical supplies, and the Administration has provided only a tiny fraction of what they desperately need,” stated Rep. Carolyn B. Mahoney, chairwoman of the committee.
“While we appreciate what we’ve received from the national stockpile, it isn’t close to enough,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement to the Virginia Mercury Thursday. “Virginia’s health care providers and first responders deserve basic protection, equipment and supplies. We need more, period. Virginia will continue to exhaust every option — including federal support — to get what we need on the front lines.”
As of Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health had a total of only 78,920 N95 respirator masks available for distribution from the state stockpile, the Mercury reported, based on data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Thirteen Virginia hospitals have indicated that they would have difficulty obtaining or replenishing enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet demand within the next three days without assistance.
Last week Northam said the state is competing with its own healthcare systems, other states, and even other countries to buy PPE, and contended that the federal government should take on the responsibility. “We are all out there bidding literally against each other,” Northam said.
Bacon’s bottom line: Clearly, there is a major problem. Scapegoating is inevitable as everyone seeks political cover. There are a couple of points worth noting.
First, one reason that Virginia is not getting all the supplies the state requested is that the needs of other states are far more dire. Here’s a snapshot (9:30 a.m.) of the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map:
Here’s how many Virginians have died of the COVID-19 virus: 46
Here’s how many residents of New York City have died of the virus: 1,562.
Whose medical system is in greatest danger of being overwhelmed right now, New York City’s or Virginia’s? Clearly, the people in charge of the Strategic National Stockpile are responding to immediate needs, not anticipated needs. The problem for Virginia is that the COVID-19 epidemic spiked first in the Northeastern corridor (Philadelphia, New York, Boston), and the pressing needs of those communities have drained the national stockpile.
Which brings me to my second point. As long as other parts of the country are faring worse than Virginia — more COVID-19 hospitalizations, greater equipment shortages — there is no moral or ethical justification for Virginia to demand a greater share of the national stockpile distributions. The commonwealth’s emergency preparedness team needs to get on with it and do what it can with the resources available.
Governor Northam argues that the federal government should take on responsibility for acquiring and distribution medical supplies. Undoubtedly, the market is chaotic right now, equipment suppliers are looking for guidance, and the federal government can play a useful role. But be careful what you wish for. If the Trump administration took full control of the medical equipment supply chain, it would also decide who gets what. And, at the moment, Virginia would fall pretty low on the list.
Virginia needs to mobilize whatever community resources it can — from business, from nonprofits, from philanthropists, from individuals. The federal government is too remote and bureaucratic to effectively tap those energies. State government is closer to the people. The Commonwealth of Virginia should focus on adding to the national supply of medical equipment, not scrabble for a sliver of the supply controlled by Washington.There are currently no comments highlighted.