“Governors plead for medical equipment from federal stockpile plagued by shortages and confusion.” That was a Washington Post headline. Similar articles and TV news stories have been painting a picture of an administration refusing to help governors and states, leaving critical gaps in their fight against COVID-19.
The unfortunate reality is that the more accurate headline “Governors ask for what they want, not what they need” won’t get that many clicks.
Yet that is what often underlies the disconnect between governors claiming to not have what they asked for, and Dr. Brix and other administration officials countering that they don’t have a shortage. Overlooked in this narrative is the tremendous disconnect between what states and local officials want and what they actually need. For example, after requesting 1,000 ventilators from the national stockpile and receiving 500, Washington state found they didn’t need them after all. They have since sent almost all of their federally-supplied ventilators to New York. Same with Oregon. Colorado officials requested 4.5 million masks. That’s nearly nine times as many as requested by Pennsylvania, a state with more than twice Colorado’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.
It’s understandable that every Governor wants ample reserves of critical medical supplies so that they can reassure their citizens that, if their state becomes the next hot spot, they have more than can meet any surge in demand.
Yet the administration’s focus rightfully has to be on addressing critical demands first. Rather than fulfilling every wish list, they are making data driven projections of actual needs, then getting resources to those areas of the country while maintaining additional supplies to dispatch immediately to wherever they are needed next.
The good news is that we live in a time when we can move materials and equipment faster than ever before. Americans depend on this supply system every day. Even if there isn’t an Amazon facility in your neighborhood, almost anything you order will be delivered to you within a day, usually at no extra cost.
Much like Amazon, during this immediate crisis, the federal government is using existing distribution centers and channels to ship what they believe is needed — while holding in reserve what may be more needed elsewhere. That is far more efficient than sending a surplus to a state and then needing to retrieve it before being able to send it to the next state.
Fortunately, reports indicate that only a minority of hospitals are actually currently overwhelmed with patients. Of course, they all need to be prepared for potentially worse days ahead, but it’s also important for the public to understand that the major crisis is affecting relatively limited areas, and therefore those areas need to be prioritized. And reporting that is accurate, not sensationalized, will go a long way to making this time a little less stressful than it already is.
The administration, too, can help by releasing a map of the states with detailed breakdowns of the areas that are most and least affected. This would reinforce to the rest of the country that what we are doing is working, and that most of the country is weathering this storm well. And it would particularly be helpful for people in current hotspots, where shortages are an issue, in making informed choices should they need a hospital or want to donate resources.
The more detailed and transparent information on hospitals and testing centers in hot spots can be, the better. Officials should show specifically what hospitals are overcapacity versus those that are managing. This could help people make smart decisions about where to seek care. Florida is already doing this well; the whole country should have similar breakdowns.
Americans are facing a tough time, not only in having to forgo work and limit social activity, but in confronting danger and uncertainty. The timely release of additional, accurate information can help people see past the alarmist headlines, give them a sense of the true scope of the problem, and instill confidence that rational decisions are being made to maximize our resources to save as many lives as possible.