But Gaynor and other administration officials sidestepped repeated questions on exactly how many masks were being shipped and when they would be in the hands of doctors and nurses who need them.
“I can’t give you a rough number,” he said in another interview on CNN, adding that governors should not depend on federal disbursements and should try on their own to obtain masks and other equipment.
“If you find it on the market, go ahead and buy it. FEMA will reimburse you for it,” he said. “This is a shared responsibility.”
Several governors pushed back, warning that pitting states against one another, the federal government, and other countries in a bidding war on the private market is no way to respond to a pandemic that requires a coordinated national response to obtain and allocate emergency goods.
“It’s a wide, Wild West…out there,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said of his attempts to obtain supplies. “And indeed we’re overpaying, I would say, for [personal protective equipment] because of that competition.”
“We need the federal government to get us those test kits,” Whitmer agreed. “We need PPEs. And frankly a patchwork strategy of each state doing what they can is — we’re going to do it if we have to, but it would be nice to have a national strategy.”
Governors, congressional lawmakers and mayors continued to plead with the White House over the weekend to use the powers of the Defense Production Act to speed up manufacture of masks, ventilators and other scarce supplies as many hospitals say they’re set to run out within days.
President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday morning that he has given a handful of car companies “the go ahead” to make ventilators and other unnamed “metal products” for hospitals, but gave no indication of a timeline or quantity. Converting factories from making cars to making medical equipment cannot happen immediately, and could take several months. In the meantime, hospitals need immediate help.
“We’ve gotten no indication of any factory on 24/7 shifts. We’ve gotten no shipments,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on NBC. “I can’t be blunt enough: If the president does not act, people will die who could have lived otherwise.”
De Blasio also called on the president to mobilize the military’s health care workers to immediately deploy to coronavirus hot spots like his own city.
“All military personnel who are medically trained should be sent to places where this crisis is deep, like New York, right now,” he said. “Why are they at their bases? Why are they not being allowed to serve? I guarantee you they’re ready to serve. But the president has to give the order.”
Though Trump signed the defense act last week, Gaynor confirmed that the administration has yet to use it to order any companies to manufacture more products. He suggested such a step wasn’t necessary as companies are already stepping up.
“We haven’t had to use it, because companies around the country, donations, they are saying, ‘What can we do to help you?’ And it’s happening without using that — that lever,” he said. “If it comes to a point where we have to pull the level, we will.”
Both in private calls with the White House and in public interviews, lawmakers are insisting that time is now.
“We cannot wait until people start really dying in large numbers to start production, especially of more complicated equipment like ventilators and hospital beds,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told CNN. “We need to start this production right now to get ready for the surge that is coming in two to three weeks.”