States struggle with coronavirus supply shortages

(CNN) - Who’s the boss? That’s what state leaders across the country are trying to figure out as they deal with the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

States are still sounding the alarm on supply shortages nearly a month after President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency. (Source: Defense Dept./CNN)

Many of them have been left wondering who is in charge of getting much-needed supplies to their health care workers.

“The states have been told, ‘You’re on your own.’ It’s the Wild Wild West,” Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer sounded an alarm, saying, “We are running dangerously low on (Personal Protective equipment.)”

“Those supplies are being diverted by the federal government,” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said.

Nearly a month after President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency, states are still sounding the alarm on supply shortages.

And there is another frustration mounting among states - understanding who is taking charge of the federal response.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has taken the lead coordinating role.

But with FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor largely out of public view, one congressional aide said, “No one really knows who’s in charge, who’s making decisions.”

Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has taken a more prominent role in the federal response, at times taking charge, unapologetically.

“I got a call from the president. He told me he was hearing from friends of his in New York that the New York Public Hospital system was running low on critical supplies. I called up the admiral, made sure we had the inventory, and earlier today, the president called Mayor De Blasio to inform him that we were to send a month of supply,” Kushner said.

In a letter to FEMA’s administrator, the House Oversight Committee is now questioning Kushner’s involvement, stating in part, “It appears that Mr. Kushner is unclear about basic facts regarding the purpose of the strategic national stockpile.”

Kushner is one of many stepping in to respond to the unprecedented pandemic.

He’s one of many in an already crowded federal response effort, that includes others like Vice President Mike Pence, Rear Admiral John Polowczyk, and FEMA Administrator Gaynor.

FEMA provided a video, showing how they’ve chartered in more than a dozen overseas flights with supplies secured by private U.S. companies.

Half of it goes back to prioritized hot spots, they said. The other half goes back to the private market - now a source of frustration for states competing with other for the same supplies.

“What’s happening is we’re having to secure, hopefully, if we can get our hands on products from China, from Australia, whether it’s ventilators or PPE, and paying six to seven times what we would.” Mendoza said.

As some states compete, others have turned to each other.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom sent 500 ventilators to fellow states, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

It’s relief for some, progress for others, but with so much uncertainty ahead, states continue to say, it’s not enough.

FEMA reports as of Monday, 13 flights carrying medical supplies from overseas have landed in various places in the U.S.

Seven more flights were scheduled to arrive Tuesday, six in Chicago and one in Los Angeles.

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