A shipment of about half a million N95 respirator masks that was expected to arrive in Northern Virginia from Holland this week never showed up, a coalition of local governments and public safety agencies said Friday.
The nonprofit Northern Virginia Emergency Response System, which ordered the masks on behalf of 23 local governments and volunteer fire departments in the region, said the supplier informed the group that it was outbid by the U.S. government amid a scramble by the Trump administration to procure more protective gear for other parts of the country.
As a result of the shipment going awry, emergency workers and some hospital workers in Northern Virginia will have to wait until at least late June for a new shipment to arrive, said Kristin Nickerson, executive director of the coalition, which helps coordinate emergency response efforts in the region.
“And that’s priority shipping,” Nickerson said, about the wait. “That’s putting us above others on the list.”
Nickerson said the $2.7 million that would have gone toward the masks was never taken out of the coalition’s escrow account.
A new shipment, priced at about half the original cost, won’t arrive until the summer under a system being employed by U.S. manufacturers that gives higher priority to masks meant for health care workers, the coalition said.
“During most emergencies, people take for granted that our first responders will have necessary supplies and equipment they need,” Nickerson said. “But the ripple effect of this global pandemic on everyday life — in which everyone is scrambling for the same level of protection — has made that incredibly challenging,” she said. “So, to then have a situation like this is all the more frustrating.”
David Rohrer, a deputy Fairfax County executive and president of the regional response system’s board of directors, said Friday that the region has faced procurement challenges throughout the pandemic and has sought answers from various agencies, without success. “We’ve had orders, both county and large regional ones, either canceled, diverted, or impounded,” Rohrer said. “All we know for certain is that orders went in, were confirmed, and that we then do not receive the most critical supplies.”
Rohrer added, “County and regional procurement officers are working hard to source PPE and chasing every lead, but it is a significant concern and frustration as localities strive to protect our health workers, first responders, clinicians, etc., as they work to protect and serve the community … Hospitals also have similar challenges and concerns. Hopefully, we’ll get more answers, or a more coordinated strategy from somewhere, but in the interim we will continue our efforts.”