Gov. Hutchinson says finding PPE is ‘very disconcerting,’ stops short of pushing Trump to nationalize production

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 2,758 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson watches while UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson discusses medical issues in responding to COVID-19 in a March 2020 press conference.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Sunday stopped short of criticizing President Donald Trump for not nationalizing the manufacturing and procurement of medical personal protective equipment (PPE), but did say he previously advocated for Trump “to use defense authority to manage the supply chain.”

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson have in recent days said the state is already seeing PPE shortages in some areas. As more people are hospitalized the shortages could grow to crisis levels.

Gov. Hutchinson has said models show that 1,000 people could be hospitalized in Arkansas at the peak the COVID-19 spread in the state. COVID-19 cases in Arkansas rose from 118 on Saturday to 165 on Sunday, with 119 persons under investigation and 517 people being monitored because of a possible risk. Smith said 19 people in Arkansas are or have been hospitalized to treat COVID-19.

The shortage of PPE is a global issue, with U.S. states now forced to compete on prices with each other to buy new supplies.

During a Sunday (March 22) press conference in Little Rock, Gov. Hutchinson said the Trump administration asked states to take the lead on acquiring PPE, but then the federal government bought up most of the national supply to place in storage. He said Arkansas received 25% of its PPE request from the federal supply. After that is gone the state will be responsible for obtaining more.

“After we exhaust that supply, we are on our own. … I want everyone to understand the challenge we face in this global marketplace,” he said, noting later in the press conference that price rose on a shipment waiting on the dock after an initial price was agreed upon.

In response to questions asking if President Trump should require U.S. manufacturers to begin making PPE for use nationwide, Gov. Hutchinson pivoted to say now is not the time to debate policy but is the time to focus on obtaining supplies. He did say there is a “very disconcerting supply chain right now” that is “bottlenecked” because of requests from all 50 states and most every country in the world.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor has said the president has not issued a national directive because numerous U.S. companies are moving to produce PPE, with some companies promising to donate the equipment.

The governor also said state officials have considered finding manufacturers in Arkansas to produce PPE, but there are “very very limited” operations in the state that could do so. He said switching a manufacturing operation has significant upfront costs and materials to make PPE are also in short supply globally.

Gov. Hutchinson said another issue with states and countries having to compete for PPE is that it forces producers to set priorities; adding that it’s not right for PPE manufacturers to have to decide which states to supply.

Arkansas Senate President Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, and nephew to Gov. Hutchinson, was not as reserved in his take on President Trump’s unwillingness to nationalize production and procurement.

“This is failure of the worst kind. It’s like telling states to go procure F-15s and battleships for self defense. This is a national crisis. The full power of the USA should be leveraged to solve this problem. Not 50 individual states left to compete with each other,” Hendren posted in a tweet.

Not all governors have been shy about criticizing the federal government’s decision to not nationalize PPE production. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted Sunday that the Trump administration has made many right moves in the COVID-19 response, but all that will be for nothing if hospitals can’t take care of patients.

”I have apparel manufacturers who I’m asking to stop making dresses, to start making the masks that people wear. This is what the federal government should be doing, and they should be doing it with their federal authority under the Defense Production Act,” Cuomo said during a CNN interview. “Forget this Democrat, Republican. We’re all Americans. And that’s what matters. … Nothing else matters at this time. And I believe the President can do a great service for this country. Take over the supply of medical equipment. Let him buy it. Let him use his legal authority to the fullest extent. It’s warranted and the people of this country will thank him.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker told The Hill that acquiring PPE “should have been a coordinated effort by the federal government,” and that President Trump must now push for a nationalized effort to produce PPE.

President Trump on Sunday tweeted his response to governors critical of his decision to not nationalize PPE production and procurement.

“.@JBPritzker, Governor of Illinois, and a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News @CNN & Concast (MSDNC), shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!”