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Pa. Congressman Lamb worries ‘we are on our own’ when it comes to protective equipment

  • Chris Potter/WESA
Lamb talks to constituents at a town hall last summer, where voters asked about impeachment.

 Lucy Perkins / WESA

Lamb talks to constituents at a town hall last summer, where voters asked about impeachment.

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Western Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb took to Twitter to voice concern about healthcare supplies on Twitter Friday. And while the state’s top medical official says the state can manage on its own for now, Lamb says the country needs a better long-term strategy.

“I just learned that Pennsylvania has been told not to expect any more masks, gloves & gowns from the national stockpile,” Lamb tweeted late Friday afternoon. “We have the FIFTH highest number of deaths & cases in the country, and our national government will not help. We are on our own.”

In an interview with WESA, Conor Lamb said he tweeted out the statement because “it’s really important for the public to know exactly what’s going on with the federal response. … There really is an absence of a concrete national strategy to get through this thing.”

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Rachel Levine, confirmed at a Saturday press conference that the state can’t expect additional resources from the federal government anytime soon.

Levine said that the state had received two shipments of N95 masks – the respirators that afford the most protection to healthcare workers – in recent weeks. “We’re doing much better in terms of our supply” of masks, she said. But there were shortages of surgical mask, gloves and hospital gowns, and “We have been told at this time the national stockpile on those materials, and we should not expect any from the federal government at this time.”

Levine said there would be little immediate effect on the state, in part because hospitals were helping each other address any shortfalls. “We will make sure that hospitals … have the supplies they need,” she said. Nor did she think the there would be an impact on when some areas would lift restrictions on activity. “I do not think this will challenge the reopening process [because] those are areas that by definition are much less affected by COVID-19.”

Still, Lamb worried about the long-term prospects for the region. So far western Pennsylvania has been spared the worst of the disease, he said, but, “We have to do ten times as much testing, and all of that testing requires personal protective equipment.”

Public health experts agree that additional testing will be necessary to keep an eye out for spikes in the virus as areas try to reboot their economies, though the state has yet to determine how much testing is necessary. Complaints about shortfalls in the federal response, meanwhile, date back to the onset of the epidemic. A lack of testing, and shortages of the reagents and swabs used in the tests, continues to be a challenge nationwide. In early April, Congressional Democrats flagged documents that showed states receiving fractions of the equipment they requested from the federal government.

Lamb said he worried that demand in the eastern part of the state risked soaking up much of the state’s stockpile, and there would be little left if the disease were to stage a comeback in the fall, as many expect. “No PPE left for us – that’s the scenario I worry about,’ he said.

“The national stockpile is running low – I get that. The real question is ‘what’s your plan to increase that?’” In conversations with federal officials, he said, “They literally have no numbers in terms of targets for manufacturing this stuff, or buying it or whatever they want to do to obtain it. Their answer is, ‘We’ll try to get as much as we can.’ … We’re essentially flying blind in the face of a national crisis.”


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