ORLANDO, Fla. — Delayed deliveries and half-stocked boxes of supplies are proving to be a new chapter of challenges for counties and cities across Florida.
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Masks, gloves, gowns, and other necessities are in high demand.
Several Central Florida agencies are reportedly nearing critical levels of need for supplies.
Critical need of supplies
Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto issued a letter Tuesday, calling on Gov. Ron Desantis to immediately ship supplies to Central Florida, where Orlando Police Department and Orlando Fire Department “are both dangerously low on masks, gowns, and other supplies needed to protect against COVID-19.”
“The Orlando Police Department has the PPE equipment it needs right now, today, and we are working to ensure we have the supplies necessary for an ongoing response, long-term,” Orlando Police Department said in a statement. “Every day we pursue every opportunity with local businesses and private vendors, as well as county, state, and federal governments, to obtain the critical PPE our officers and personnel need to remain on the job, serving and protecting the City of Orlando.”
Orlando Police and Orlando Fire departments both said in statements they are also relying on donations and public support to ensure personnel receive any protective equipment that may also be donated.
“In an effort to keep the Orlando Fire Department members healthy and ensure our crews have the personal protection equipment they will need in the weeks ahead, we are working with our local and state elected officials, private industry, and local businesses to secure these supplies and continue to monitor the usage rate to make predictions about our PPE needs,” Orlando Fire Department said in a statement.
OFD is encouraging donations of these resources to be dropped off at Fire Station 16, located at 12375 Lake Nona Gateway. Orlando Police is also encouraging donations. The OPD headquarters is located at 1250 West South Street.
“It’s going to be challenging”
Nationwide, governors have been warning in recent weeks that they are not receiving the necessary amount of supplies to protect various frontline health and law enforcement workers.
“I’m absolutely concerned,” said Alan Harris, Seminole County’s Emergency Manager. “If we continue to burn through PPE that we are burning through, it's going to be challenging.”
Harris said Seminole County has been preparing for impacts from COVID-19 coronavirus since January, when the virus spread beyond China.
“We did purchase some supplies before the event really took off,” Harris said. “There’s only so much local governments can do. We start to stockpile a little bit, but you don’t want to stockpile too much because if a pandemic never gets here you’ve wasted money.”
Seminole County said Tuesday they have an estimated 72-hour supply of personal protection equipment on-hand for distribution to various agencies. That shows the urgency of supplies being delivered.
Since last week, Seminole County received eight shipments, including 10,000 N95 masks, 14,000 surgical masks, 1,400 shields, 12,000 pairs of gloves, and Tyvek suits.
Counties have been working to keep a flowing supply of the crucial supplies, while being careful to no hoard excess stock that could be used elsewhere.
The supply process
Counties distribute their supplies to hospitals, assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, standalone emergency rooms, and other agencies in need.
The “burn rate” of the supplies is the actual use of the gloves, masks, and other items.
Counties say they are continuing to look at ways to be preserve or extend the use of the supplies, noting the growing demand, and growing difficulty in getting new supplies in.
“The county, at a baseline, has supplies and that baseline will get you through a specific amount of time, the variable depending on burn rate, how fast you’re going through the personal protective equipment,” said Christian Zulver, Orange County’s Emergency Medical Services Director.
Counties primarily source the supplies from the state, who in turn receive their supplies from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile.
However, that flow appears to be anything but smooth.
“We have constant requests every day for supplies, both to distributors and the state, and we’re getting some of those things in,” Zulver said. “We have the ability to keep ourselves above water, so to speak, but if we saw a big spike or didn’t have the ability to receive supplies, we’d have to make allocations and be cautious about use.”
Zulver said, like other counties, they are getting orders fulfilled in bits and pieces.
State leaders, including governors in New York, Illinois, and Michigan, say their requests are not being entirely filled either.
The chain of supplies
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said even the supply coming to the Sunshine State has been erratic at times.
“(The federal government doesn’t) necessarily have the best tracking system they use,” DeSantis said during a mid-March press conference. “It’ll show up, hopefully, on somebody’s doorstep, either at the EOC or somewhere in one of the hospitals.”
DeSantis said, like counties, the state is also receiving partial deliveries of supplies.
Federal Emergency Management Administration told Spectrum News that as of March 28, it has delivered millions of items to states across the U.S., including: 11.6 million N-95 respirators, 26 million surgical masks, 5.2 million face shields, 4.3 million surgical gowns, 22 million gloves, 132,000 overalls, and 8, 100 ventilators.
Florida Division of Emergency Management said it is awaiting a third shipment of supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. Thus far, FDEM says it has distributed statewide: 2.8 million masks, 3.9 million gloves, 218.000 face shields, and 157,000 gowns.
States, like counties and other entities, can also obtain supplies through private third-party distributions.
Third party problems
That process, however, has been rife with complaints of price gouging and other issues.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the market right now. I can’t tell you exactly, but it’s not a normal situation given how much in demand those masks are,” DeSantis said this week.
The governor later told reporters about the distribution issues: “… I can tell you it’s shady as hell, that’s for sure.”
One of the most vocal critics of the process is Florida’s Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, who in recent days had placed his focus squarely on 3M.
“@3M, Hello again. Director of @FLSERT here. I have money, you have masks yet you won’t sell them to me. Stop selling to foreign governments,” Moskowitz tweeted April 2.
Moskowitz argued 3M would not sell directly to states, instead forcing states to use distributors and brokers that continued to release product to ‘the highest bidders’, creating price hikes and smaller volume of supplies.
“@3M please tell me this is #FakeNews. The stories of the foreign governments showing up to factories with cash to jump ahead in the line is something I hear from your authorized distributors,” Moskowitz tweeted April 2.
Moskowitz has often characterized the process of trying to obtain supplies as “chasing ghosts" putting in orders for supplies only to find out the distributor doesn’t have the supplies in stock.
3M told Spectrum News in a statement that it is taking steps to address price gouging and fraudulent manufacturing, but did not reply to Spectrum News’ question if they would sell directly to the State of Florida.
President Trump announced Monday that 3M will produce 166.5 million masks over the next three months.