On Friday, New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced that a large shipment of medical supplies was en route to the state, following a request his administration had made to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, or ASPR, the official within Health and Human Services that manages the nation’s strategic supply of medical materials.
Murphy, at a press conference, acknowledged the deliveries were “not remotely the entirety of our ask.” A document obtained by The Intercept shows that the deliveries — while still large in number — amounted to far less than the state thinks it will need to treat its residents.
Murphy noted the request during a Friday briefing on coronavirus with state’s Acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. Murphy said New Jersey has been ahead of the curve so far in its response to the virus, and would continue to be so. The state received 21 new presumptive positive test results on Thursday, bringing the state total to 50. “We continue to make every decision based on the facts as they are on the ground,” he said.
“We received word last night from the federal Department of Human Services that in the coming days, a shipment of medical supplies will be arriving in New Jersey for our front-line public health responders, including more than 84,095 respirators, 200,000 surgical face masks, and 38,000 face shields, among other needed items,” he said. “As this is not remotely the entirety of our ask of the federal government, we hope this is the first of what will be several deliveries,” Murphy explained, adding that his office would continue engaging with federal officials and would “not be shy to push as needed to make sure we have the ability to meet the needs of New Jersey.”
According to the document, the state had asked for much more, basing its request on projections that 18,000 people in New Jersey would be impacted, including 5,400 severe cases needing on average a five-day hospital stay. Murphy’s office requested 864,000 coveralls and received 160; requested 864,000 face shields and received 38,365; requested 864,000 gowns and received 31,280; requested 2,880,000 respirators, received 84,578; requested 864,000 surgical masks and received 200,000; and requested 2,880,000 gloves and received 111,378.
Later in the day, his official account posted a tweet touting the numbers of medical supplies the state was expecting to come. “We received word last night from @HHSGov that, in the coming days, a shipment of medical supplies will be arriving in NJ for our front-line public-health responders – including more than 84,000 N95 respirators, 200,000 surgical masks, 38,000 face shields, and other needed items,” the tweet read.
The state asked for 1,065 ventilators, which it said would amount to 15 each for New Jersey’s 71 hospitals. None are yet marked as shipped.
Twenty-three of the 29 requests in the document appeared not to have been fulfilled at all — including one crucial ask. The state asked for 1,065 ventilators, which it said would amount to 15 each for New Jersey’s 71 hospitals. None are yet marked as shipped. The state requested a long list of additional respiratory supplies, none of which were filled by ASPR. In Italy, doctors are being forced to choose which patients live or die due to a shortage of ventilators.
Politicians, pundits, and everyday Americans have been openly — and perhaps justifiably — speculating about just how unprepared the country is to adequately respond to the spread of coronavirus in coming weeks.
While reports continue of blocked access to testing — unless you play for the NBA — even Fox News pundits show visible frustration with nonanswers from Trump administration officials on practical questions.
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, was pressed on Fox News on Thursday about the federal government’s stockpile of ventilators. She repeatedly dodged the question of whether the stockpile would be sufficient to meet an expected surge in demand. “In terms of numbers, we’re still assessing, we’re still working with hospitals to understand what their needs are. Right now, though, I will tell you we haven’t had hospitals at this point, in large numbers, saying we need more ventilators, but that situation could change rapidly,” Verma said.
Before her position in the Trump administration, Verma was an Indiana health industry consultant and at the center of kickback scandal, in which she was being paid by the administration of then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to design an alternative plan to Obamacare, while also being paid by the state’s private Medicaid vendor, which got major contracts from her program. Pence is now chair of the pandemic task force.
It’s not clear why HHS declined to fill New Jersey’s order, but the federal government’s pandemic response has been the subject of cuts for years. In 2009, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., stripped nearly $1 billion in funding for pandemic preparedness from the economic stimulus, in her effort to keep the price tag under $800 billion. And, early in his administration, Trump eliminated the pandemic preparedness team within the National Security Council. He was pressed on that decision Friday by “PBS NewsHour’s” Yamiche Alcindor and dismissed it as a “nasty question,” saying that he wasn’t sure he had done so.
On Saturday, at a press conference, Gov. Murphy emphasized the importance of the federal government filling the state’s full order. “I had a short but good conversation last night with the Vice President and thanked him for the PPE, the personal protective equipment that he’s begun to send our way and some of which we have received today,” he said. “But I pleaded with him that we needed more; that that was a piece of our ask but that we have a lot more that we need. And Commissioner Persichilli can update you on some of what we’ve already received. As I said, we continue to work with our federal partners including the CDC, individual departments, clearly to get the guidance and the support we need to ensure the health and safety of our residents.”
Update: March 15, 2020
This story was updated to include subsequent public comments by Murphy.