“The Administration’s failure to take this pandemic seriously from the onset will cost American lives,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement. “Forcing our medical personnel on the front lines of this crisis to perform their duties without the necessary safety equipment is a travesty. We must get them the critical supplies they need without delay.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said the equipment delivered “isn’t close to enough.”
“We need more, period,” the governor said in a statement. “Virginia will continue to exhaust every option — including federal support — to get what we need on the front lines.”
The White House referred questions to FEMA, which said the stockpile was never intended to fulfill all state and local needs in the coronavirus pandemic and that the federal government is trying to find other ways to obtain supplies to combat the virus.
FEMA has obtained additional supplies from the global market for distribution “in varying quantities, first to medical distributors in areas of greatest need; then, the remainder will be infused into the broader U.S. supply chain,” the agency said in a statemment. “Prioritization will be given to hospitals, health care facilities, and nursing homes around the country.”
Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary of Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, told the oversight committee on March 30 that the federal government is giving states “what they need, not necessarily what they want.”
The distribution information became public as the District, Maryland and Virginia reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases, and as tens of thousands of area residents filed a record number of jobless claims for the second consecutive week.
The number of regional fatalities attributed to covid-19 reached 90, underscoring officials’ concerns that the national capital region will become a new epicenter of infection in coming weeks despite the “stay-at-home” orders implemented this week.
States desperate for materials from the national stockpile have encountered a beleaguered system beset by years of underfunding and confusion over the allocation of supplies. FEMA only recently inherited control of the stockpile.
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said the details of what the region has received “starkly illustrate” what Hogan, chair of the National Governors Association, has said repeatedly: “No state has enough of what it needs to fight this pandemic.”
“As we prepare for a medical surge in the nation’s capital, we urge the federal government to honor our full request of supplies that we need to save lives,” said LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). “We can’t wait until the surge is here—we need it now.”
Besides receiving no ventilators, the District also got none of the safety goggles and hand sanitizer it asked for and received less than 1 percent of a requested 663,760 gloves and 1,132,478 respirator masks.
Maryland received about a third of the 181,595 face shields, 421,532 respirator masks and 778,129 surgical masks it requested and about 43 percent of a requested 330,540 gloves. The state did not receive any of the 15,000 body bags it asked for.
Virginia received no surgical masks or face shields, and less than 8 percent of the 2,214,388 respirator masks and 3,386,976 gloves it sought.
Eric R. Houpt, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health at the University of Virginia Health System, said that while ventilators are important, personal protective equipment such as the high-grade respirator masks are in the “have to have” category as more patients come through hospitals.
“If a hospital system or community gets to a point of, literally, no more gowns, gloves, face shields, or masks — let’s assume that disinfection and re-use of current PPE only can last for so many shifts — then it is hard to imagine how most sentient health care workers will allow themselves to go to work, unarmed, into a firing squad,” Houpt said.
But Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), who has dealt with global supply chains for decades as co-founder of a national wine retailer, said the numbers may not be as dire as they appear. He said it’s important to take into consideration the current situation in Maryland, which has hundreds of ventilators that are not yet in use, and consider that the supplies will move around the country as different areas experience surges of cases.
“We’re one country, and we’re here to help each other,” he said in an interview.
Trone said he is confident Maryland will be prepared by early May, when, he said, experts have told him the caseload will resemble surges experienced in the hardest-hit parts of New York and New Jersey.
At the same time, he said the federal government should take charge of doling out equipment, instead of expecting state and local governments to compete among both public and private providers.
“We’ve allowed 50 governors to chase their own supply chain, and hundreds of hospitals to chase their own supply chain, and you need to prioritize exactly what is available,” Trone said.
In addition to a growing health crisis, the pandemic is wreaking economic catastrophe in the region and across the country.
More than 212,000 residents of the District, Maryland and Virginia reported losing their jobs last week, twice the amount from the week before, federal data showed Thursday.
In Virginia, there were 114,404 jobless claims filed for the week ending March 28, nearly 2 1/2 times as much as the week before. Marylanders filed 83,536 claims during that span, double the total from the prior week. In the District, which reported more recent numbers through Wednesday, nearly 44,000 residents have lost their jobs since mid-March. By comparison, 27,000 unemployment claims were filed in the city for all of 2019.
President Trump declared Virginia a “major disaster,” a designation that makes it easier to secure federal funding to fight the pandemic. The District won the same declaration on March 29, and Maryland several days before that.
Maryland reported 346 new coronavirus cases Thursday, for a total of 2,332, according to a Washington Post analysis of government data. The state reported two fatalities, bringing Maryland’s death total to 36.
The District reported 67 new cases, for a total of 657, with 12 deaths.
Virginia reported 222 new cases, bringing its total to 1,708. There were five new deaths, for a total of 42 fatalities.
Bowser (D) told local hospitals this week that the city would need an additional 3,600 beds to handle an expected surge in coronavirus cases. She offered to create a $25 million fund to defray the costs.
In a letter obtained by The Post on Thursday, Bowser asked hospital leaders to each identify how many new beds they need and to identify alternative facilities to care for patients, giving them a Thursday deadline. The city has also been looking for nonmedical facilities to care for patients and to build temporary facilities.
Starting Friday, District residents who meet certain criteria will be able to get tested for covid-19 at a new drive-through and walk-up site at United Medical Center in Southeast Washington, the city’s only public hospital. The site, which is operated in conjunction with George Washington University Hospital, was opened to first responders on Thursday.
The facility will accept the patients who are exhibiting symptoms and fall into one of these categories: those who are 65 or older, or have underlying health conditions; health-care employees who work at a facility in the city; and D.C. first responders.
The site will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For now, they will need a doctor’s referral. But officials said a hotline will soon open where they can call for an appointment, and no referral will be needed.
D.C. firefighters and paramedics have responded to more than 730 emergency calls about suspected cases of the novel coronavirus, the department said Thursday. Doug Buchanan, a fire department spokesman, said the vast majority of callers did not have the virus.
Overall, the number of emergency calls has dropped slightly due to the fact that there are tens of thousands fewer workers and visitors in the District amid the shutdown, Buchanan said. But the fire department is preparing for spikes in calls, and for the possibility that many firefighters and paramedics could fall ill.
So far, 21 members of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department have tested positive for the coronavirus. A total 183 members are out on quarantine, and another 152 who were sidelined have returned to work.
The economic devastation caused by the virus, and the need for extra resources, has prompted small gestures of help from many corners of the region — including the federal government.
The National Archives said Thursday that it has donated a supply of N95 respirator masks, nitrile gloves, gowns and Tyvek suits that its workers normally use when dealing with damaged records. The supplies went to the District’s Emergency Management Response Team, which is working with HHS to distribute the supplies, National Archives officials said.
Meanwhile, local officials continued to do what they could to keep the virus from further spreading.
In Maryland, Montgomery County closed all tennis and pickleball courts, banned the use of basketball courts and playgrounds, and said it plans to heighten enforcement of social distancing rules at its parks and trails.
For several weeks, the county’s Parks Department has placed signs at outdoor facilities, urging residents not to touch equipment or gather in large groups. Following “repeated violations,” the department has taken more serious steps, including removing basketball hoops at certain courts and placing orange barriers around playgrounds, officials said.
Erin Cox, Rebecca Tan, Rachel Chason, Peter Hermann, Michael Ruane, Darran Simon, Laura Vozzella and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.