The website for the Strategic National Stockpile revised its mission statement overnight after White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said the country's largest taxpayer-funded reserve of medical supplies and life-saving pharmaceuticals were not meant for states to use during a public health emergency.
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile, it’s not supposed to be the state’s stockpile that they then use,” said Kushner at Thursday’s coronavirus task force press briefing at the White House. “So we’re encouraging the states to make sure that they’re assessing the needs, they’re getting the data from their local situations, and then trying to fill it with the supplies that we’ve given them.”
The need for more supplies has become a central issue for state leaders and medical workers in the fight against coronavirus.
Before Kushner’s statement, the website described the stockpile as “the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out. When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”
After Kushner’s news conference, that definition was scrubbed from the website and replaced by the following statement:
“The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available.”
Journalist Daniel Dale was the first to point out the change on the Strategic National Stockpile website.
Kushner accused some state officials of requesting supplies without knowing what they need, according to a report by The Hill.
“Some governors you speak to, or senators, and they don't know what's in their state,” Kushner said, according to The Hill, when asked by a reporter what it takes for a state to receive ventilators from the national stockpile.
“Don’t ask us for things when you don’t know what you have in your own state. Just because you’re scared, you ask your medical professionals and they don’t know. You have to take inventory of what you have in your own state and then you have to be able to show that there’s a real need,” Kushner said.
The fight with governors
The comments by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law drew swift backlash across the country as governors and other local authorities have been clamoring for more help from the federal government as the crisis continues to worsen.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he doesn’t believe the stockpile to be fully equipped, saying Tuesday that the country’s patchwork approach to the pandemic had made it harder to get desperately needed ventilators, The New York Times reported.
“You now literally will have a company call you up and say, ‘Well, California just outbid you,’ ” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in his daily news briefing. “It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.”
And in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said Tuesday that it was “disturbing” to learn that a national stockpile of medical supplies was running empty.
“We are on our own,” he said.
The Times reports that some state officials have sparred with the president on phone calls and in public interviews, while others have sided with the president, or calculated that it would be easier to get the needs of their states met with support and praise.
Trump, who has been quick to pick fights with governors who have criticized his efforts, took aim at Cuomo on Tuesday, saying that the governor “shouldn’t be complaining.”
“You know what, he has a lot of ventilators,” the president said. “The problem is, with some people, no matter how much you give it’s never enough.”
The White House said Trump is exercising due diligence.
“President Trump has taken an unprecedented approach to communicating and working with our nation’s governors,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman said in a statement when asked about the criticism of Hogan and others on Tuesday night, according to The New York Times. “During these difficult times, Americans are receiving comfort, hope and resources from their president, as well as their local officials, because this is an all-of-American effort.”
But governors across the country, from South Dakota to New York, have for weeks pleaded with the administration to produce supplies they say have not arrived, The Times reports.
‘We’ve done a great job’
During a teleconference with several governors earlier in March, Trump heard from several governors who said they were still waiting for masks and ventilators, despite repeated claims from White House coronavirus task force officials that the equipment was on the way.
“The country has really stepped up like I don’t think we’ve seen it in many, many — probably decades,” Trump told the governors during the call held March 19. “It’s incredible the way they’ve stepped up. So we hope we can get rid of this thing quickly.”
After the call, the president’s tone changed as several governors who were concerned about supplies in the stockpile started to speak out publicly.
At a news briefing with reporters on March 27, Trump said that Whitmer, who has been a vocal critic of his administration’s coronavirus response, “has no idea what’s going on,” adding, “All she does is say, ‘Oh, it’s the federal government’s fault.’ ”
At different points, Trump has directed Vice President Mike Pence to stop calling Whitmer and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat who has also criticized the administration’s response.
“I want them to be appreciative,” the president said. “We’ve done a great job.”
By the following week, Michigan officials said the state had received three shipments of supplies from the federal government, including about 1 million masks and hundreds of thousands of gloves, allocated by population size. They said they had also requested additional supplies from the federal government: Of thousands of ventilators requested, they had received about 400, according to The Times.
All of the supplies sent to Michigan had been working and usable, a state representative said.
Some states and cities have actually received shipments of personal protective equipment from the reserves but with a few surprises.
Montgomery County, Alabama, reported receiving 5,880 medical masks from the national stockpile last week that were dry rotted and unusable, according to a report by The Associated Press. Officials said the masks had a 2010 expiration date. Alabama Sen. Doug Jones expressed concern that the stockpile shipments have been inadequate and states are in a “hunger games” scenario, bidding against each other for private purchases, AP reported.
In California, officials said 170 ventilators sent to Los Angeles had been unusable and were sent to a Silicon Valley company for repair.
Senator calls for investigation
A report by Politico said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) is urging the Health and Human Services inspector general to investigate possible mismanagement of the repository's cache of ventilators, which have been in severe shortage at overwhelmed hospitals everywhere.
“I don’t know what Kushner was talking about, what he meant. But the stockpile is for the country. And the country is made up of states in the federal government,” Gardner told Politico.
The stockpile is for the country, Trump told reporters when asked Friday about Kushner’s comments.
Congress authorized the creation of the national stockpile of medical supplies in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness Response Act, which passed in 2002, nine months after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
— Information from The New York Times was used to supplement this report.