AUGUSTA, Maine — An expected shipment of protective equipment used by workers fighting the coronavirus will be the last from a federal stockpile for an indefinite period and falls far short of the state’s needs, a top Maine health official said Monday.
Only a “paltry” amount of equipment has been given to the state so far amid nationwide struggles to find equipment and calls from governors to release more, said Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maine’s congressional delegation on Monday joined Gov. Janet Mills in calling on the administration of President Donald Trump to give more equipment to the state, which has seen 275 confirmed cases of the virus and reported its second and third deaths over the weekend.
Maine received about 5 percent of the supplies it requested from the federal government, Shah told The Washington Post last week. Many other states have reported similar figures, while Florida has said it has received requested levels of supplies, which include gloves, masks and heavier-duty equipment such as ventilators for patients requiring critical care.
That was before a third shipment that Shah told reporters he expected on Monday evening that would bring 60,000 N95 respirator masks, 143,000 procedure masks and 184,000 gloves, among other things. The Maine CDC said the new shipment of N95 masks would bring it to roughly 20 percent of the total requested from the federal government.
Shah said those allotments “will help us, but they still remain insufficient” and that the federal government has said it could be Maine’s last shipment for “quite some time.”
“We are still trying to work with the federal government to see what additional allotments may be made,” he said at a Monday news conference.
There are few other options for states looking to acquire equipment on their own, while hospitals deal with a short number of supplies on the market as well. On Friday, the Bangor Daily News reported that MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta had enough surgical masks to last one to two weeks even though it only had two hospitalized coronavirus patients at that time.
Other governors have noted that states are bidding against each other to get equipment on the private market. Maine officials have put out a call to in-state manufacturers to help produce protective equipment. L.L. Bean has said it is working with MaineHealth to produce masks, while a Gorham company has begun producing shields, though Shah said on Monday that the capacity of the private sector to make enough new equipment in Maine is unclear.
Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, sent a letter to the Trump administration asking it to release more protective and testing equipment. She was joined by the state’s congressional delegation in a letter on Monday noting Maine’s proximity to hotspots including New York City and Boston.
Shah said it was unclear how the Trump administration was choosing to send equipment to states and if it was prioritizing harder-hit states over those like Maine trying to contain outbreaks. A spokesperson for the U.S. CDC said allocations are being made with a formula proportionate to state population. Areas of high transmission can get more gear by request.