Contained in the Chaotic, Cutthroat Grey Marketplace for N95 Masks

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Inside the Chaotic, Cutthroat Gray Market for N95 Masks

The widespread belief that the Trump administration, in the face of its opposing protests, is P.P.E. shows the extent to which the federal government was seen as part of the problem rather than as a solution. Public health experts generally agree that the federal government has sole power to coordinate a comprehensive response to a nationwide pandemic and has typically taken the lead on national disasters over the past century. According to a detailed internal plan drawn up by the administration in March when the virus was about to gain a foothold in the United States, it identified one of the “primary federal missions” as the pillars of “medical supplies, consumables, and P.P.E. Needs ”across the country.

However, the Trump administration appeared to be doing the opposite. On March 19, President Trump stated at a press conference: “The federal government should not be out there buying and shipping large quantities of items. You know, we're not a shipping agent. "This led to the chaotic PPE marketplace described by Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, as" 50 states competing against states and the federal government competing against states, "which is the cost of masks to New York rose from 85 cents each to around $ 7. To resolve this "madness" he called on the federal government to control all purchases to suppress bidding wars and to move the PPE more efficiently towards hot spots – like the earlier guidelines of the Bush administration, the administration's own planning, and numerous public health experts, mayors, governors, and congressional officials suggested.

It was not just the political opposition, but also a small number of Conservatives, who asked the administration to take more leadership – the private sector also advocated a direction. As of late January, representatives from six of the largest medical care companies and members of the Health Industry Distributors Association, a trade group, had raised concerns about supply chain issues. They asked senior administrative officials for guidance on making daily calls, as indicated in documents released by the House's oversight committee. Confusing to some senior industry leaders, however, after almost two months they were still trying to get administration to take straightforward action – while the supply chain was visibly broken.

An industry leader who met with the President and Vice President and asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation described the widespread frustration among private health leaders in administration. He recalled a "shocking" and "annoying" White House seat in March where Vice President Mike Pence first complained health professionals with handshakes and then tried to smooth over an hour of criticism they had unloaded to a senior HHS official by simply pretending that they would solve the problem. "It was like we were in two different realities," said the individual. "I could see that the vice president was in a bubble."

The attempts of the administration to use the P.P.E. The crisis reportedly emanated from a team of unpaid consultants, many in their twenties with little to no health care experience, put together by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. After distributing the backlog of the Strategic National Stockpile, the federal government focused on sourcing the medical distributors and gray market it provided as best it could and distributing them through FEMA. An analysis by The Associated Press found that rural states with less severe outbreaks had more P.P.E. per confirmed case than states with significantly more dangerous outbreaks. This led to allegations of political preference in a life or death situation – although the government has strongly denied this.

Kushner's team, meanwhile, also launched Project Airbridge, a program that allows P.P.E. from Asia to America by paying to have it flown, not shipped. In the first four months of the outbreak, Project Airbridge would help bring in 5.3 million respirators and 122 million medical masks. While these numbers are large, they represent only a tiny fraction of the 3.5 billion respirators that Kadlec said was needed. In June, the Airbridge project would be handled without fanfare.

At the start of the pandemic, at least from Baystate Health's point of view, the government's response managed a feeding frenzy. In this kind of chaos, everyday citizens had little chance, so Keroack turned to Representative Neal. At first this didn't seem to do anything, and Artenstein left the federal agents and the masks and drove home. But that evening, when he was back in the hospital, he learned that the shipment had been loaded onto the trucks. Representative Neal had managed to call the Department of Homeland Security and delivered a strongly worded message to release the respirators. As Salls watched the trucks on their long drive north, she was nervous every time they stopped for gas. The masks eventually arrived at the guarded warehouse well after midnight, and pictures of them were frivolously shared. Over the next few days, the remaining three-quarters of the order arrived in pieces, with Representative Neal's chief of staff, Tranghese, taking each portion through customs. But Baystate's ordeal was far from over.

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