States Are Shipping Each Other Ventilators Because The Federal Gov’t Is MIA
It's an important trend: governors are coming together to fill the chasm left by the federal government.
As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. approaches half a million, and President Trump continues to waffle on what medical equipment the federal government can give to various states, the governors of those states have been taking matters into their own hands — including coordinating an interstate exchange of crucial equipment.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week sent 500 ventilators to states where he says they are currently more needed, including one of the epicenters of the pandemic, New York.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been saying for weeks that if other states can help New York get through its peak — anticipated to be the first and possibly worst peak in the country — he will in turn personally direct help toward those states when they need it.
The shipment from California was warmly welcomed this week by Gov. Cuomo:
And Gov. Newsom had this response to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy thanking him as well:
California isn’t the only state sending much-needed ventilators to other states; Oregon has also helped New York. Oregon has so far confirmed more than 1,300 COVID-19 cases, while New York is approaching 150,000 confirmed cases.
The governors are stepping up where they say the federal government has been notably absent. Trump, who has told states to place their own orders with manufacturers for equipment, insists that’s the right strategy. Governors disagree. Public health experts say it’s “unprecedented having the president pit one state against the other” during a crisis such as this. As the country's strategic stockpile of PPE has been nearly depleted, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) said the administration is leaving states to “fend for themselves” in a scarce open market for supplies, facing off against each other and federal agencies in an increasingly expensive and chaotic bidding war."
“We’re supposed to be the United States helping each other out, not survival of the fittest,” doctor and public health researcher Laura Kahn said to CalMatters, a California nonprofit news site. Kahn has written a book called “Who’s in Charge?: Leadership during Epidemics, Bioterror Attacks, and Other Public Health Crises.”
Governors' calls for help have been a resounding chorus as the outbreak has worsened. “There should have been a coordinated effort by the federal government,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on CNN March 22. “We’re competing against each other, we’re competing against other countries, you know, it’s a Wild West out there.” Now, rather than competing against each other for manufacturing orders, the states are trying to share their stockpiles themselves.
“It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator,” Gov. Cuomo said in late March, of Trump’s directions for governors to make their own purchases. “The federal government, FEMA, should have been the purchasing agent, buy everything and then allocate it by need to the states.”
Gov. Newsom says California is stepping up to help with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that frontline healthcare workers desperately need as well:
Not everyone in California is happy with the idea of sending ventilators out-of-state, though it is well-documented that the rate of infection and hospitalizations in New York is much, much higher than in the West Coast state.
Many governors have been discussing a possible “consortium” among the states to coordinate an overall response, since FEMA is reluctant to do so. The National Governors Association confirmed Thursday that “the idea is being considered,” according to Bloomberg News.
Gov. Cuomo is vice chair of the NGA and says he’ll work with them on the consortium idea. At his daily briefing on April 9, he summed it up simply: “If the federal government is not going to do it, then the states have to do it.”