POLITICS

FEMA Head Says Masks Are Being Shipped To Hospitals, But Can't Provide Details

Asked why supplies from the national stockpile weren't sent out earlier, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor said he's focused on "today."

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Sunday said that additional face masks are being shipped from the national stockpile to U.S. hospitals facing shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic. He did not, however, provide details related to the timeline or number of masks sent.

“They’re shipping today. They’ll ship tomorrow,” FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor told ABC’s “This Week.” “We find more and more masks to ship. We are trying to focus those shipments on the most critical hotspots of the country ― places like New York City, Washington state, California.”

Host Martha Raddatz asked Gaynor which type of masks were being distributed as well as how many and when, but the emergency manager couldn’t say. “Will the health care systems there be overwhelmed there before masks get there?” she asked.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of millions of things that we’re shipping from the stockpile,” Gaynor said. “I can’t give you the details about what every single state or what every single city is doing. But I’m telling you that we are shipping from our national stockpile, we’re shipping from vendors, we’re shipping from donations. It is happening. The demand is great.”

Raddatz continued to press Gaynor for specifics, asking how many masks were in the stockpile but he didn’t say.

“There are still supplies in the stockpile,” Gaynor said. “We’re prepared to go to zero in the stockpile to meet demand.”

Asked why all the masks from the stockpile haven’t been shipped yet and why more weren’t sent earlier, as health professionals nationwide have been begging for more supplies, Gaynor said his focus is on “today.”

“I am well aware of the high demand for these items,” he said. “My focus is today. Filling all the demands that have been in the queue.”

Democrats, medical professionals and public health experts have sharply criticized President Donald Trump and his administration for being slow to respond to intelligence briefings and warnings from other countries about the coronavirus risk. 

Trump initially downplayed the potential threat and spread of the virus as it essentially shut down parts of China and whole countries like Italy earlier this year. Health experts say the federal government’s slow rollout of testing procedures kneecapped the nation’s ability to contain the virus.

FEMA was only invited to join the White House’s coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, last week, Gaynor said Sunday.

“Should FEMA’s involvement have ramped up sooner and why didn’t it?” Raddatz asked Gaynor.

“Well, I’m not gong to look back at what should have been done, what wasn’t done and we can do that at a later time,” Gaynor responded. “Again, my focus is ... on today.” 

There are over 27,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 340 people across the country have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Despite urgent pleas from governors and members of Congress, Trump has waffled on whether to invoke the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that could ramp up the production of much-needed medical supplies. Trump tweeted Sunday that he had “given the go ahead” to automakers to start producing “ventilators and other metal products,” though Gaynor said the DPA hasn’t yet been invoked.

“It’s an insurance policy,” Gaynor told NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday. ”If we have to throw that lever we will. ... We haven’t had to use it yet.”

When asked if he was confident whether FEMA will be able to provide enough masks and ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients, Gaynor didn’t say.

“We are working to source from all different kinds of manufacturing,” Gaynor said. “These are finite, limited resources. Will we ever have enough? I’m not sure. But our goal is to make sure that we aim these critical resources to the places that need them the most.”

In another interview Sunday, Gaynor told CNN’s “State Of The Union” that hospitals and governors should buy masks if they can find them and FEMA will reimburse them.

“This is a shared responsibility,” Gaynor said. “Every American has a role to play in defeating the virus. ... The president appointed FEMA five days ago to manage federal operations and, since I’ve been here, we’ve been shipping continuously.”

In a subsequent interview on CNN, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said FEMA being tapped to lead the emergency response has been helpful in the overall fight against the virus, but said medical supplies are still limited.

“I do think FEMA is more prepared for this than the other agencies were,” he said. “For example, we have received some [personal protective equipment] in the past couple of weeks.

“But it’s a fraction still of what we’ve requested,” he continued. “We need millions of masks and hundreds of thousands of gowns and gloves and the rest. And unfortunately, we’re getting still just a fraction of that. So we’re out on the open market competing for these items that we so badly need.”

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