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Key medical equipment coming to Mass., but need — and disparities — remain

Medical and physician assistant students in personal protective equipment listened during a meeting in Las Vegas. Massachusetts has been scrambling to get critical medical supplies, including the gear that protects healthcare workers from coronavirus.
Medical and physician assistant students in personal protective equipment listened during a meeting in Las Vegas. Massachusetts has been scrambling to get critical medical supplies, including the gear that protects healthcare workers from coronavirus.John Locher/Associated Press

Governor Charlie Baker on Monday said federal officials will send Massachusetts at least 1,000 ventilators, on top of nearly 900,000 pieces of protective equipment that arrived this past weekend, offering an injection of critical supplies amid the state’s frustrating chase for gear during the coronavirus outbreak.

The ventilator order, which Baker said was approved within 48 hours of the state’s request, is expected to arrive by next week, and could offer a dramatic boost to the state’s supply of the machines, which provide life-saving breaths to patients with acute respiratory failure, a symptom of COVID-19.

Estimates suggest the state has about 1,400 ventilators, making the shipment notable in both size and timing: Baker said projections show the state could see a long-expected surge in cases between April 7 and April 17.

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“It was a big positive step forward in the right direction,” Baker said Monday.

But it also comes as many orders, including from the federal government, have been unpredictable and in some cases, delivered well below what the state has sought.

Baker vented last week about the hurdles the state has faced in ordering medical supplies and personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirator masks, including after the Trump administration itself thwarted several of its orders.

The state, like others, has also sought to tap the National Strategic Stockpile. Some 878,000 pieces of new equipment arrived over the weekend, pushing the number the state has gotten from the stockpile to 1.63 million, according to figures the state provided Monday. That includes about 245,000 N95 masks.

But that the total is just 36 percent of the 4.5 million pieces the state has requested since March 5. Since then, the numbers of confirmed cases have jumped to 5,752 in a state of nearly 7 million residents.

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Florida, by comparison, requested nearly 1 million pieces of equipment on March 11, and within three days, received all of them. An identical order arrived on March 23, and the state has begun receiving a third order of the same size, said Jason Mahon, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Once complete, Florida will have gotten 2.99 million pieces of equipment from the stockpile, including 1.3 million surgical masks and 540,000 N95 masks, he said. The state, which has 21 million people, has reported 5,276 confirmed cases.

Since the earliest stages of the outbreak, hospitals and health agencies across the nation have warned about looming shortages in medical gear, including masks, gowns, and ventilators, necessary to protect coronavirus patients and first responders and medical workers on the front lines.

The concerns have escalated in recent weeks as states prepare to see surges in their numbers of cases and many of their requests from the federal government’s stockpile have gone unfulfilled. What each state receives, and when, from the cache has been such a moving target, the state’s federal delegation has even started to press the Federal Emergency Management Agency for answers.

Baker said Monday that federal officials have told his administration they’re distributing stockpile supplies based on projections of “where the most significant issues are at any given time." States, including Washington and California, as well as New York City’s surrounding metropolitan area, have been the “primary areas of concern" over the last 10 days, Baker said.

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But he said he and others have impressed on President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and others that need is changing rapidly.

“The number of areas and counties and states where the numbers have been moving pretty quickly is growing," Baker said.

That includes Massachusetts. Confirmed cases statewide more than doubled between Thursday and Monday, as have the number of deaths, which spiked to 56. In filling needs for equipment, Baker said the state’s command center has also been contacted by “hundreds” of individuals and businesses willing to donate or sell protective equipment.

Trump said Sunday that governors “were happy” from what they have received from the stockpile when asked about the disparities between states such as Florida and Massachusetts. “Massachusetts, we’re dealing with the governor very strongly," he said, "and trying to get things to Massachusetts as rapidly as possible.”

The Massachusetts Congressional delegation, led by Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Ayanna Pressley, sent a letter Monday to Vice President Mike Pence and FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor calling on them to provide regular and detailed updates to state and local officials regarding shipments of equipment and medical supplies.

States and cities are struggling with supply shortages, and many have faced unpredictability in when and how their orders are filled, they said.

“The lack of transparency and information from the federal government about the allocation and availability of [personal protective equipment] is highly problematic,” they wrote. “State and local leaders have said that it has prompted bidding wars between states, cities, and towns desperate for equipment.”

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New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who has warned against states outbidding each other on medical supplies, on Monday pushed back against the president’s implications that hospital staff in hot spots might be hoarding or even stealing personal protective equipment.

New York City has a warehouse in Edison, N.J., where Cuomo said city officials have been creating their own stockpile of equipment to prepare for an apex of coronavirus cases based on data projections.

“It is a fundamental blunder to only prepare for today,” he said in a press briefing. “The whole stockpile concept is to prepare for the future.”

Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said the agencies have been jointly reviewing requests for federal assistance and coordinating logistics, but the Strategic National Stockpile remains under Health and Human Services. The agencies declined to release state-by-state data on what has been requested and distributed, citing numbers in constant flux.

That makes it difficult to compare how requests are being processed, given states have widely differed on what they’ve disclosed.

For example, in Pennsylvania, where officials have confirmed 4,087 cases, a spokesman for the Department of Health said he didn’t have specific figures for how many pieces of equipment it’s requested or gotten to date.

Nate Wardle, the spokesman, said Pennsylvania officials were told the stockpile “was originally pushing out the first 25 percent of supplies,” followed by a “second 25 percent," some of which arrived in Pennsylvania last week.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom over the weekend said Los Angeles had received 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile that a Silicon Valley-based company had stepped up to fix.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Saturday said Trump had agreed to send the state a third round of masks, surgical gowns, medical beds and other supplies. But he said it still wouldn’t be enough as the state’s caseload surged by more than 3,300 on Monday, bringing the state’s total to more than 16,000, second only to New York.

As federal officials have been inundated with requests for protective gear and medical supplies, President Trump has also taken to sparring with governors who he said have not been “appreciative” enough of the White House’s response efforts. During a Friday press briefing, Trump told reporters that he directed Pence not to call Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

“Don’t call the woman in Michigan,” Trump said during the briefing. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call."

A spokeswoman with the Michigan state health department on Monday said it had received three shipments of supplies from the national stockpile, which federal officials sent “proactively” based on population, not on formal requests. Those deliveries included 739,000 surgical masks,121,590 gowns and a total of 654,340 pairs of gloves.

But state requests submitted to FEMA just last week capture the state’s dire need. They asked for roughly 1.1 million surgical masks, some 1 million gowns and more than 10 million pairs of gloves.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Reach Jazmine Ulloa at jazmine.ulloa@globe.com or on Twitter: @jazmineulloa.