March 29, 2020 / Associated Press
The billions of tax dollars headed for hospitals and states as part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus response bill won’t fix the problem facing doctors and nurses: a critical shortage of protective gowns, gloves and masks.
The problem isn’t a lack of money, experts say. It’s that there’s not enough of those supplies available to buy. What’s more, the crisis has revealed a fragmented procurement system now descending into chaos just as demand soars, The Associated Press has found.
Hospitals, state governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are left bidding against each other and driving up prices.
For more than a week, governors have pushed back against administration assurances that supplies are available now, bitterly complaining to President Donald Trump that there’s no coordination.
“It’s pretty much every state for itself,” said Virginia’s secretary of finance, Aubrey Layne, who is deeply involved with his state’s effort to buy medical supplies.
Masks that were priced at $2.50 a week ago are now being quoted as high as $9, he said, and suppliers make clear that there are “plenty of people out here” looking to buy, even at the high prices.
“There is a lot of opportunism going on,” Layne said.
Doctors and nurses in hot spots like New York and New Orleans are caring for feverish, wheezing COVID-19 patients without adequate masks, gloves or gowns.