As healthcare workers fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, stories about employees going without important personal protective equipment (PPE) are far too common. Perhaps unsurprisingly, so are stories about healthcare workers developing the coronavirus, and some dying after serving on the front lines. In Miami-Dade County, Florida, firefighters are set to begin a new coronavirus testing program where they literally go to the homes of people who can’t get out for drive-thru testing. What a great idea.
As the director of Emergency Management for Miami-Dade county Frank Rollason told local outlet WLRN, they were scheduled to receive a shipment of one million much sought after N95 masks last week. The problem? According to Rollason, the federal government “hijacked” the shipment.
“We were going to meet the plane and actually take them. That’s like gold, you know,” Rollason told the outlet. “But we got the word from the company that they had been taken from the federal government.”
As reported by the Miami Herald, a FEMA spokesperson has offered a statement denying that FEMA is seizing any PPE from hospitals, state, or local governments “who are lawfully engaged in transactions through which these resources are distributed.”
Then the statement reportedly continued: “There are bad actors out there who are hoarding and price gouging. The Department of Justice has assembled a task force that has seized PPE from individual bad actors and businesses hoarding PPE.” In contrast, Rollason claimed to WLRN that while some product sales are indeed “bogus,” this particular one that was seized by federal authorities was the real deal.
As Florida reopens its beaches, plus megachurch leaders encouraging congregations to gather in spite of social distancing guidelines, a lack of PPE for all first responders (not to mention the average person) feels especially terrifying. As well as healthcare professionals, first responders including police and fire departments fear close interactions with people, including potentially entering cars and houses, without proper equipment.
This isn’t only happening in Florida, either. As my colleague Meteor Blades covered recently, one physician in Massachusetts wrote about how the DHS and FBI almost confiscated the N95 masks his hospital was purchasing. We also know that likely as a result of Trump essentially telling states to fend for themselves, prices for PPE have shot up. The kicker? The Trump administration is bidding against states desperate to get supplies for hospitals. And of course, who can forget Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker sharing that the federal government sent the state the wrong type of mask for best battling the coronavirus, supplying them with surgical masks instead of the preferable N95 respirator masks.
As for the firefighters in Miami-Dade, they’re working with smaller shipments to get the program going in spite of the setback. As assistant fire chief Greg Rubin said in a statement, it’s “certainly not as efficiently as we would like this process to be, but nonetheless, successful thus far to meet the needs of our operation for now.”