Sen. Tammy Baldwin Calls Out Pence on Wisconsin's Continuing Medical Supply Shortage
Wisconsin National Guard members Sgt. Nathaniel Nyquist, left, Sgt. John Clark and Spc. Madeline Westrick gather samples at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site near Baraboo on April 29. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Before VP Pence can face Kamala Harris, he has to deal with Sen. Tammy Baldwin and others wanting him to explain supply chain failings.

As Wisconsin continues to experience shortages of COVID-19 testing supplies at many locations, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Wednesday questioned Vice President Mike Pence about reports the federal government is diverting those supplies from the state.

In a news release, Baldwin, D-Wis., said the supply shortage is leading to reduced COVID-19 tests and the suspension of pre-procedure testing for surgeries ranging from orthopedics, gynecology, urology, gastrointestinal procedures and others at hospitals, reducing care for patients and hospitals’ income. 

“President Trump put you in charge of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, so I am writing with deep concerns about our ongoing testing supply shortages and the repeated diversion of supplies from Wisconsin, even as your own task force has labeled our state a ‘hot spot’ and we have just experienced, once again, a single-day record of new coronavirus cases,” Baldwin said in the release.

In her letter to Pence, Baldwin demanded that the Trump administration make public information about why testing materials are being diverted from Wisconsin as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state. 

On Aug. 8 a one-day record 1,165 new cases of the virus was recorded in Wisconsin, and in the past several weeks new daily cases routinely have topped 800. On Wednesday there were 478 new cases, bringing the total number of positives in the state to 62,263. A total of 1,011 state residents have died from the virus.  

The higher COVID-19 caseload in Wisconsin garnered the state a “hot spot” designation from the federal government on July 26. 

On July 29, Baldwin said, Advocate Aurora Health, a 15-hospital nonprofit health care network that includes other providers, issued a special COVID-19 message to staff in Wisconsin and Illinois detailing a new testing approach because testing supplies bound for Wisconsin had been diverted elsewhere, causing tests to be discontinued at some of the provider’s locations. 

One week later, an Aug. 5 news release from Aurora stated that like many health care providers, they were “forced to adjust our COVID-19 testing approach as testing supplies continue to be constrained and we experience a delay in anticipated shipments.”

Aurora isn’t alone among medical providers lacking testing materials and, in some cases, adequate personal protective equipment. Numerous hospitals and clinics told UpNorthNews that while swabs and other testing equipment was made more available for a time after an initial shortage, those supplies have become more scarce again in recent weeks. 

Similarly, they said, personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns and N-95 masks became more commonplace but are now harder to come by in some locations.

The Trump Administration previously has acknowledged shortages of testing supply and personal protective equipment, and Trump has said he ordered providers of those materials to increase production. But that hasn’t happened to the degree needed, hospital administrators and Democrats said. 

A late-May review of test supply and PPE records showed one month after Gov. Tony Evers had requested those materials be sent to Wisconsin, only 22 percent of them had been received. None of the surgical gowns sought had been received at that time. 

Even when the state did receive medical supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, some of them were completely unusable, health care providers reported.

Since then, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said he has heard repeated concerns by health care providers about a lack of testing equipment and PPE. 

“There has been failed leadership on this issue by President Trump and his administration,” Kind said, “and it is putting people’s lives at risk.” 

Baldwin repeatedly has called out the Trump administration for its failure to provide Wisconsin with the medical supplies the state has requested, including testing supplies. An inability to fully test for COVID-19 will lead to more undiagnosed cases, she said, and will further the spread of the virus.  

“The failure of leadership from the Trump Administration is resulting in a rationing of health care in Wisconsin and it is unacceptable,” Baldwin wrote to Pence. “Months into this crisis, and we do not have enough supplies available in the state of Wisconsin for the widespread testing that is needed to monitor and contain the virus.”