Some states say they're being outbid by the federal government.
By: Jamie Grey, Emma Ruby, Jill Riepenhoff and Lee Zurik
Originally Published: April 19, 2020
(InvestigateTV) – The coronavirus, in some ways, has divided the states, forcing them to vie against one another to secure gear and equipment to help the ill and to protect front-line workers.
In some cases, they are even bidding against the federal government for much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies.
And, they are paying millions for these necessities.
InvestigateTV obtained and examined purchase orders and spending documents related to the coronavirus from multiple states – including Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington – to illustrate the issue.
Each state has been hit with staggering numbers of COVID-19 cases in certain areas of their states, straining their meager supply closets.
The state – especially the Chicago area – has been battered with COVID-19 cases, with a total of 27,575 infected and more than 1,100 deaths as of April 17.
The state has been on a spending spree for necessities to fight the virus.
On April 10, its biggest spending day to date, the state spent nearly $35 million. Included in that was $11.8 million for gowns and $1.1 million for two million masks.
On March 31, the state wrote a check for $8 million for hand sanitizer.
It was one of the first states impacted by the spread of COVID-19 and as of April 16, it had 11,152 cases and 583 deaths.
By April 13, it had ordered equipment and protective gear totaling more than $322 million.
Among its requests were orders for ventilators – totaling around $28 million.
On April 10, the state ordered 350,000 virus sampling kits estimated to cost more than half a million dollars.
But Washington’s requests, thus far, have largely amounted to nothing more than a wish list.
As of April 13, documents obtained by InvestigateTV show that Washington state still only had less than a quarter of what it needed in terms of gloves, surgical masks with shields, thermometers and hand sanitizer.
In fact, Washington had not received 97% of what it ordered.
As of April 16, Colorado had 8,675 COVID-19 cases and 374 deaths.
The state’s purchasing records document detail the struggle of local authorities.
State officials wrote of the desperate need to get PPE to first responders and health care providers to Pitkin County in mid-March.
The request stated: “We have reached out to all local resources. Local stock is extremely low. Current numbers upon request. Estimated less than 2 days of stock remaining. Need N-95, Face shield/spray mask, N-95, Tyvex Gowns. Please let County know if there is a cost before finalizing.”
In April, other local agencies in Colorado have requested other items such as a hotel room to quarantine a firefighter, masks for county jail staff and inmates and swabs to test first responders.
It also fielded a request from a city needing PPE for workers at an assisted living home to meet a state mandate for long-term care facility safety.
The city wrote: “Colorado Department of Health is now mandating that everyone in Assisted living and skilled nursing staff all wears masks to protect patients since there has been more and more nursing facilities with COVID outbreaks. They have over 200 employees and do not have the supplies to provide PPE to everyone. Suppliers still has everything pending or on back order.”
With 23,118 cases and 1,213 deaths as of April 17, the state’s purchasing department said gearing up for coronavirus is tricky because every government is vying for things at the same time, and there is so much unknown.
“This event required some thinking outside the box and some unique approaches to all of that, particularly given the amount of demand that was out there throughout the country,” said Casey Tingle, the deputy director and chief of staff for the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
As the coronavirus has caused personal protective equipment prices to surge, Louisiana has also projected potentially spending in the millions in attempts to stay equipped.
But orders are hard to get filled here too.
“We have, I think, had some cancellations. I think we’ve had some vendors that did not necessarily deliver all we had ordered for them or that may not have been able to deliver the exact item we wanted delivered,” Tingle said.
The Bluegrass state has largely escaped the extreme hot spots that some other states have experienced. As of April 16, it has 2,429 cases and 129 deaths.
Even so, the Kentucky Gov Andy Beshear has been outspoken about the fact that the federal government is outbidding states.
“Our biggest problem is that just about every single order that we have out there for PPE, we get a call right when it’s supposed to be shipped and it’s typically the federal government has bought it or told not to send it. It’s very hard to buy things when the federal government is there and anytime they want to buy it, they get it first,” he said during an April 4 public briefing.
With all of the issues in obtaining equipment, states have gotten creative – Kentucky and Louisiana, along with many other states, have reached out for donations and help from private companies.
Oregon and Washington have tens of thousands of donated masks in their equipment accounting documents. And Ohio has used its prison inmate workforce to make gowns and face shields.
InvestigateTV News Content Specialist Tess Rowland contributed to the research for this report.