The Strategic National Stockpile won’t be sending states any more of the emergency equipment needed to battle the coronavirus pandemic — respirators, surgical masks, gloves, face shields, beds or ventilators — because it has already given them as much as it can.
The stockpile’s depletion, apart from a small reserve for federal workers, means the private market must meet states’ remaining protective equipment needs.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is investigating the distribution of its supplies, revealed the stockpile’s status Wednesday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had briefed representatives on the situation Tuesday.
FEMA has said supplies were allocated directly to places with a critical need to sustain life or to facilities with at-risk populations but has not given details about how it made those judgments.
The stockpile did not distribute supplies according to urgent need initially, as the virus began to spread in the United States, according to an internal spreadsheet made public as part of the committee’s investigation.
Through March — as cases of COVID-19 climbed and health care providers made pleas for protective equipment — the stockpile continued to distribute supplies to the states based on population, not according to the number of cases, the spreadsheet shows.
That strategy continued even as cases grew in Washington State and a crisis erupted in New York City, according to the newly released document. The result was that crucial supplies went to places with relatively few cases compared to the hot spots.
Even as FEMA moved to distribute supplies based on need in late March, illogical allotments continued. For instance, the spreadsheet shows the agency giving states set amounts of equipment unlinked to either need or population. Equal shipments of N95 masks went to Vermont and Texas, the former a tiny state, the latter a huge one.
The stockpile, it seems, contained nowhere near the amount of equipment needed to combat the virus. For example, it distributed fewer than 8,000 ventilators, the devices that help critically ill patients breathe. The United States Conference of Mayors estimates based on a survey of local governments that cities need 139,000 additional ventilators.
Governors have expressed frustration that without more equipment from the stockpile they are left bidding against each other — and the federal government — for supplies as private sector manufacturers produce them.