Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison). Photos via their Facebook pages.

Needed items still haven’t arrived, other supplies don’t work.

Two members of Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation on Monday called out the federal government for its repeated failure to provide the state with enough supplies, or the correct supplies, to expand COVID-19 testing and the personal protective equipment necessary to protect medical personnel and others from contracting the potentially deadly virus. 

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s continued inability to get those supplies in adequate numbers to Wisconsin makes combatting the virus more difficult and places people’s lives at risk. 

The two lawmakers wrote a letter to FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor outlining their concerns about the lack of supplies and the fact many of those supplies were substandard and did not allow COVID-19 testing to occur. 

“First, the (President Donald) Trump administration failed to get our state the supplies it needs to expand testing and protect our communities,” Pocan said in a statement. “Then, when they finally get us supplies, they send many that are unusable for the pandemic. The pattern of apparent negligence from the top has a human cost and our state cannot tolerate this administration’s incompetence any longer.”

Wisconsin and many other states reported problems obtaining enough PPE and other supplies in March and April after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. In an April 30 letter to FEMA, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers requested supplies the state still needed to expand testing and protect frontline workers. 

President Trump has promised to address the PPE shortage, saying he has ordered providers to increase production. But that hasn’t happened to the degree needed to meet demand, Baldwin and Pocan said.  

Instead, the lawmakers said, a review of records shows that one month after Evers’ request, only about 22 percent of requested items have been received. None of the surgical gowns requested were sent to Wisconsin, they said. 

Even when Wisconsin did receive FEMA medical supplies, some of those materials the state most needs were completely unusable, the lawmakers said. For example, 17,000 saline tubes sent to Wisconsin were too short to transport the swabs used in COVID-19 testing, they said. Similarly, nearly 68,000 foam applicators the state received were not sufficient for testing either.

Evers and state Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm have called for more testing across Wisconsin. That has happened in recent weeks, as the state has increased its testing capacity significantly to as many as 13,000 tests daily. 

But staff at several COVID-19 test sites told UpNorthNews they have significant shortages of materials to conduct tests, forcing them to try to purchase those items from manufacturers. 

“We still are not getting the supplies we need in the quantities necessary to fight COVID-19,” Pocan said. “And too often, when we received supplies, they weren’t usable for the purposes required.”

Adding to the supply problem, Pocan said, is the fact that early on during the coronavirus pandemic, FEMA was in charge of test kits and the reagents necessary for testing. Later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took on that oversight, and during that switch most testing labs in Wisconsin were denied supplies. 

Baldwin criticized the Trump administration’s response to the medical supply request, saying the president has failed to provide Wisconsin the medical materials it requested despite promises to the contrary.

“Shortchanging Wisconsin and sending us unusable medical supplies is simply not acceptable and it’s not going to help our state move forward,” Baldwin said. “This White House needs to deliver the medical supplies Wisconsin desperately needs to shut down this pandemic, safely reopen our economy and put people back to work.”