The Trump administration’s rollout of emergency medical equipment was so chaotic that one Florida charter school was deluged with tens of thousands of masks while hospitals went begging.
The administration ordered 650 million cloth masks as part of a $675 million program in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, but a STAT review of those efforts found 37,500 masks were sent to that 140-student charter school.
“It was always going to look like madness, especially in the early days,” said Juliette Kayyem, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration. “But given the price of this manufacturing and distribution plan … if you can’t find a method to the madness a few months later, it may mean it’s all madness. Where did those masks actually go?”
STAT reviewed an administration document that identified more than 60,000 recipients of the masks that were ordered from domestic underwear and apparel manufacturers and shipped to U.S. agencies, nonprofit organizations and private companies.
In addition to sending enough masks to outfit each student at a single charter school with 267 masks, the administration doled out tens of thousands of masks to one Fortune 500 pharmaceutical corporation before it stopped accepting new requests after six weeks due to overwhelming demand.
The document obtained by STAT was provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, which funded the program, and includes names of recipients and the number of masks provided to each, but detailed analysis was made difficult by data anomalies or incomplete information.
The HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helped distribute the masks, declined requests for interviews, but an HHS person told STAT the masks were “vetted and prioritized as they came in,” with requests “from community, civic, and government organizations serving the populations at greatest risk and those with essential workers, such as critical infrastructure sectors pushed to the front of the line.”