After pleas, Michigan receives additional N95 masks; more on the way

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan over the weekend  received additional supplies from the U.S. national stockpile for health care workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic, with more en route, officials said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the shipments included more than 120,000 N95 respirator masks delivered to the state Emergency Operations Center. She cheered the arrival as "great news for our health care workers." 

Two more truckloads of supplies are expected Monday and will be distributed to regions hardest hit by the virus, according to the state health department.

"We're grateful to FEMA for that," Whitmer said in a video she tweeted Saturday, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We're working 24-7. There's much work to do, but this is good news in the midst of a lot of really tough stuff that's going on."  

The equipment is intended for high-risk health care workers, nurses and doctors. Michigan is among the states hit hardest by the novel coronavirus outbreak, with 132 COVID-19 deaths and 5,486 cases as of Sunday.  

The state on Thursday received about 225,000 surgical masks from the federal Strategic National Stockpile that had been missing from an shipment earlier this month. 

The stockpile is the government's repository of emergency medical supplies and drugs. It has sent three shipments of supplies to Michigan on a population-based formula.

FEMA told the office of U.S. Sen. Gary Peters that an additional shipment of 1 million N95 respirators could be sent to Michigan soon, with the caveat that some vendors are struggling to produce and fully deliver the orders they are promising on time, a Peters aide said.

"Today’s shipment is great news," Peters tweeted Saturday, "but Michigan needs more N95s & I’m pushing FEMA to get our next shipment ASAP." 

N95 respirators have been in high demand globally since the onset of the highly contagious novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They filter out 95% or more of airborne particles, providing a higher level of protection than surgical masks.

Peters, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that oversees FEMA, spoke with FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor on Friday night to push for personal protective equipment and other supplies for Michigan, the Peters aide said.

Gaynor then provided the clearance for more N95 respirators to be shipped to Michigan, according to the aide.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters

The N95 masks arrived in the state following pleas from Whitmer and Michigan lawmakers this week for more crucial health and safety equipment to help hospitals and facilities facing shortages.

Whitmer said she spoke to Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday morning and that the state would "keep working around the clock with FEMA and the White House to get more of the personal protective equipment we need to keep Michiganders safe."

A partial shipment from the stockpile arrived Friday in Michigan that included another 840 N95 masks; 13,000 surgical masks; 62,400 face shields; nearly 43,000 surgical gowns; and 66,000 pairs of gloves, according to a notice that Whitmer’s office sent to members of Congress.

President Donald Trump had told governors to secure equipment their states needed on their own, but Whitmer has said that supply orders that Michigan had placed were being delayed or canceled and diverted to the federal government.

"We the states are trying to actively get every piece of PPE that we can. We’re competing against each other and in some cases the federal government is taking priority," Whitmer told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday. 

The Republican president blasted Whitmer, a Democrat, in recent days after her criticism of his administration's sluggish pandemic response and lack of preparedness or strategy. Trump stepped up his attacks Friday after Whitmer's appearance on CNN. 

"I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic," Trump tweeted.

"Yet your Governor, Gretchen 'Half' Whitmer is way in over her ahead, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude!" 

But at the White House this week, Pence complimented Whitmer, saying she “has been leading her state through all of this with great energy.”

“We want to partner with her. We want to partner with every governor and make sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing in terms of acquiring resources,” Pence said.

Rep. Paul Mitchell, a Dryden Republican, said it's essential that Michigan get more personal protective equipment for hospital staff and testing components but said Whitmer's not been transparent about what she's requested from the federal government or when.

He said Whitmer, a national co-chair of former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign, is using the issue for political gain, saying her office was aware that more N95 masks were en route to Michigan when she complained in press interviews Friday about needing more. 

"The politics needs to stop. Or if you don’t stop the politics, at least we ought to be honest,” Mitchell said. 

As of Sunday evening, the state had received 310,380 N95 respirator masks; 739,000 surgical masks; 371,190 latex gloves; 283,150 non-latex gloves; 148,608 face shields; 121,590 surgical gowns; and 3,853 coveralls.

Some of the items received from the stockpile were expired but cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for emergency use past the expiration date, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

Mitchell emphasized that shipments were proactively sent to Michigan by the national stockpile on a population-based formula. The state hadn't officially requested additional N95 masks from the stockpile, he said. 

"You say it’s ‘woefully inadequate,’ but you didn’t ask for anything," Mitchell said of Whitmer.

Asked to respond, Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor "will keep working hard along with FEMA and the White House to get more of the personal protective equipment we need to keep Michiganders safe."

Brown also noted the "great news" from the White House, which announced Saturday that Trump had approved Whitmer's request for a federal disaster declaration, effective Friday.

The declaration will provide federal funding for crisis counseling for those affected by COVID-19 and would make funding available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and some private nonprofit organizations for "emergency protective measures," according to a news release.

Staff writers Craig Mauger and Beth LeBlanc contributed