Federal Seizures of Medical Supplies Continue

Elliot DelSignore, Contributing Author

As countries around the world battle the spread of the novel coronavirus that has quickly become a global pandemic, the states are caught up in another battle – and this one is being waged against the federal government.


President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic has been criticized by millions of Americans, regardless of political party. From denying previous remarks about the pandemic, attacking reporters for asking questions, describing critical CDC guidelines as “voluntary”, and refusing to take federal action, President Trump’s lackluster response has only served to inflame the issue. As of April 8th, the United States has the most confirmed cases in the world, a number that’s higher than the next three countries with high numbers of cases combined. 


The government told the states to fend for themselves and get supplies without federal aid, but while the states scramble to compensate for the utter lack of national action, they’re facing even more roadblocks. As the virus spreads, hospitals have quickly faced shortages of masks, surgical gowns, ventilators, and other crucial medical supplies. 


When medical facilities across the country attempted to order more, they found an unexpected competitor: the federal government. An alarming pattern has become apparent over the past few weeks where orders have been mysteriously cancelled, physical shipments have been confiscated, and federal authorities have gone as far as ordering vendors to only sell masks and supplies to the government. 


FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, swept in and unexpectedly bought 500 ventilators that Colorado had been attempting to purchase, a state in need of over 10,000 ventilators. “It was nice when we were competing against the states,” Governor Jared Polis said in an interview with CNN on April 3rd, but “…we can’t compete against our federal government. Either work with us or don’t do anything at all.” 


Other states are facing similar problems. A Florida medical system saw a large shipment of thermometers seized. Testing supplies were taken from a hospital system spanning ten medical facilities across Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. Somerset County, New Jersey had a shipment of 35,000 masks confiscated by federal officials, while over three million masks en route to Massachusetts were confiscated at the Port of New York.


As these seizures continue and it remains unclear where the confiscated supplies are being distributed, states have been forced to find alternate methods of securing the medical equipment they need. The Massachusetts government has made perhaps the most publicized attempt. After losing a previous order to federal authorities, the state made an emergency deal with China, transporting over a million critically needed N95 masks to hospitals and medical facilities on the New England Patriots’ plane. 


Even a small order of just 20,000 in Texas was unexpectedly cancelled. Jose Camacho, head of the Texas organization that ordered the 20,000 masks, was shocked. “Then to have this happen, you just sit there wondering what else you can do,” Camacho said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “You can’t fight the federal government.” 


Officials in seven states have seen supplies confiscated. None of them have been informed of when replacements may arrive or if they will ever gain access to their missing orders. In a time when these supplies could mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of people, governmental guidance has been completely absent.


These seizures aren’t just restricted to the United States. Abroad, the United States abruptly bought a shipment of masks originally ordered by France hours before the planes were set to take off. Jean Rottner, president of the eastern region of France, was bemused. “…On the tarmac, the Americans take out the cash and pay three or four times for the orders we have made,” he confirmed to Russia Today. “It’s complicated. We fight 24 hours a day.” 


In another international incident, the White House has also made numerous attempts to force manufacturing company 3M to export masks manufactured in Singapore to the United States. 3M has also been heavily pressured by the White House to ship ten million respirator masks originally produced for countries in Asia to the United States instead, and to cease exporting respirators to Canada and Latin American countries. The company denied the request. Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, gave a statement on April 3rd declaring that it would be a mistake to cease exports to Canada, one that  “…could end up hurting Americans as much as it hurts anybody else.” 


One of these such 3M shipments from Singapore was allegedly ordered by Germany. According to German political officials, it never arrived. Instead, officials have claimed that the 200,000 masks meant for German emergency workers were seized in Bangkok and rerouted to the United States. The apparent seizure has been condemned as an “act of modern piracy” by Andreas Geisel, interior minister of Berlin. “You don’t treat your transatlantic partners like that,” Geisel said, urging the German government to enforce international rules and press the United States to stick to them. The United States government has denied the claims, as well as 3M itself, and the German government is currently investigating possible supply chain issues.


As it becomes more and more apparent that the National Stockpile is failing to supply states with what they need, it seems that the situation will only grow more dire. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican from Massachusetts who helped orchestrate the Chinese mask delivery, told President Trump during a teleconference  that “on three good orders, we lost to the feds. I’ve got a feeling that if someone has the chance to sell to you and to sell to me, I am going to lose on every one of those.” Baker said in a statement on April 2nd that the state will “continue to come up with ways to chase more gear to keep our frontline workers and patients safe. We need more, we will always need more.”