Bracing for more COVID-19 patients, Charlie Baker says obtaining crucial gear has been ‘difficult’

"You don't have a confirmed order until it actually shows up."

Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a briefing on the state's response to COVID-19 in the Gardner Auditorium of the Massachusetts State House on March 30, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Sam Doran/Pool)
Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a briefing Monday on the state's response to COVID-19. –Sam Doran / Pool

President Donald Trump says the country’s governors are “happy” with the support his administration has provided in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

That’s not necessarily the word Gov. Charlie Baker would use.

Asked during a press briefing Monday if he was “happy’ with how the federal government had distributed the protective gear, like masks and gloves, needed by health care workers to treat people with the highly contagious virus, Baker said the subject has “been a difficult one” for governors like himself.

“I’ve made that clear to the people in the administration,” he added.

The difficulties are two pronged.

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In the midst of a national shortage, the Baker administration said last week that 17 percent of their requests for personal protective equipment, or PPE, from the National Strategic Stockpile had been fulfilled. And the Republican governor has also expressed growing frustration over losing orders to the federal government when the state — at Trump’s urging — has tried to independently procure equipment on the private market, rather than rely on the strained stockpile.

“I stand here as someone who has had confirmed orders for millions of pieces of gear evaporate in front of us, and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is,” he said during a press conference last Thursday.

In a New York Times opinion piece Friday, Baker and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called on the Trump administration to “get out of the way of states when we seek private-sector suppliers and release more materials from the national stockpile to meet our pressing needs.”

To that end, Baker did acknowledge a “big, positive step forward” on Monday, as the state works to prepare for an anticipated “surge” in cases next month.

During the press briefing, he announced that the Trump administration had approved the state’s request for “at least 1,000” ventilators, another crucial piece of equipment in short supply in the fight against the respiratory virus. Baker said they expect the ventilators to arrive by the first week of April.

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He also said the state received a shipment of PPE from the stockpile over the weekend, though his office didn’t immediately disclose the quantity. As of last Monday, the state had requested 4.5 million pieces of equipment from the stockpile — including respiratory masks, gloves, and gowns — according to The Boston Globe. In total, they had reportedly received 750,000 pieces of gear.

As The Washington Post recently reported, the Trump administration’s distribution of gear from the stockpile has been uneven, with Florida getting everything it had requested while other states, like Massachusetts, receive just a fraction. Baker said Monday that he had been told by federal officials that distribution is “based on a set of calculations and projections” around local need, noting that Washington state, California, and the New York City area — where COVID-19 cases have been concentrated — have been viewed as “primary areas of concern.”

“That said, many governors, including me — on the calls we’ve had with both the president and the vice president and folks on their team — have pointed out that the number of communities and the number of areas and counties and states, where the numbers have been moving pretty quickly, is growing,” Baker said.

Massachusetts health officials announced 797 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state Monday, bringing the total to 5,752 — which is the fifth-most in the country — along with 56 deaths.

Baker also said that the state is bracing for a “surge” in patients between April 7 and April 17. According to the governor, the state has placed $50 million in orders for additional supplies.

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“But obviously, we will need more,” he said.

The Baker administration announced an online process Sunday in which local organizations and businesses can donate or sell PPE, including masks, goggles, gloves, gowns, and hand sanitizer. And the governor said Monday that the state will “continue to chase PPE through a whole variety of alternative supply chains.” But after repeatedly losing what were thought to be “confirmed” orders to the federal government, Baker said he remains circumspect.

“I know I speak for most governors when I say this — you don’t have a confirmed order until it actually shows up,” he said.

Baker said he did “appreciate the fact that the stockpile did send us some additional gear over the weekend” and said there were additional PPE orders with scheduled delivery dates this week.

“If those orders actually get delivered, that will make a really big difference,” he said.


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