DENVER – Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday afternoon the state was “grateful” to receive 100 more ventilators from the federal government, and lauded the 500 more devices the state had than at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, just days after he said that FEMA had bought ventilators out from under Colorado.
President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that the federal government “will be immediately sending 100 Ventilators to Colorado at the request of Senator Gardner!”
His statement came just days after Polis told CNN’s Don Lemon that Colorado was “competing against the federal government” to acquire ventilators and other medical equipment to battle the novel coronavirus. CNN also reported, citing a congressional source, that “many of the orders” Colorado made for medical supplies – including 500 ventilators – were canceled after those supplies were bought by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Other states have had similar issues, their governors have said.
“Either be in or out, folks. Either you’re buying them and you’re providing them to the states and you’re letting us know what we’re going to get and when we’re going to get them. Or stay out and let us buy them,” Polis said at the time.
Polis has been talking to most of the state’s congressional delegation on a regular basis, he has said, including to Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Most of the delegation, save for Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) on occasion, has signed on to most of the pleas from Polis made to the federal government, and Polis has applauded their joint efforts toward getting Colorado the supplies it needs as the case count continues to grow.
But many have wondered about the federal government’s response efforts and how much of a hand it is playing in buying and distributing supplies – particularly after Trump reportedly told governors to try getting the equipment themselves in mid-March and after his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner said the federal stockpile was “supposed to be our stockpile, it’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they can use.”
When Trump was asked about the federal government outbidding states on Tuesday, he said sometimes governors “let us know … and we drop out.”
“Sometimes we tell them to drop out because we have a good price and we will deliver it to them,” Trump said Tuesday.
Gardner said in an appearance on Fox News Wednesday morning that he talked with Trump Tuesday night about the state’s need for ventilators, and about Polis’ search for supplies, and said he was thankful for the president’s decision.
“We’re going to continue to work with the President for more and continue to meet Colorado’s needs, but I think it’s just a sign that we are fighting for Colorado and we’re standing up for all our states in this COVID-19 response,” Gardner said.
Trump said at a briefing Wednesday that the government "just sent them out," referencing the 100 ventilators and that they would "be there very shortly."
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said she believed Trump was “playing politics with public health” by singling out Gardner, who is up for re-election in November, as being responsible for the ventilators.
“Governor Polis and our Congressional delegation have been working to get more ventilators to Colorado for weeks. In fact, Colorado was set to receive 500 ventilators until FEMA blocked the shipment. Now, President Trump says we will get 100 as a courtesy to Senator Gardner,” she said in a statement. “That means, because the president is playing politics with public health, we're still 400 ventilators short from what we should have received. His mismanagement of this crisis is costing lives and livelihoods.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., echoed similar sentiments.
“It's 100 more ventilators than we had but it's also woefully short of the 10,000 requested by the Governor and what our state needs,” he tweeted. “The Trump administration should not be playing politics with the health care equipment desperately needed to save lives.”
Sen. Bennet said “any and all ventilators are needed and much-appreciated” but that FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) needed to “get out of the way and stop commandeering supplies and equipment that the Colorado Governor and local governments are ordering.”
“The fact that FEMA and HHS got in the middle of what should have been a simple transaction demonstrates this administration’s lack of strategy and proper coordination during this crisis,” Bennet tweeted. “Instead of maligning governors who are trying to care for their constituents with limited resources and support from the federal government, the president should be focused on formulating an actual plan – as we asked him to do weeks ago.”
Polis sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House’s COVID-19 task force, on March 28 to say the state had a “dire shortage” of needed PPE and ventilators and said the state needed 10,00 ventilators.
At a news conference on April 1, Polis went through a presentation showing that of the supplies requested by Colorado from the federal government at the time, only a small percentage had been sent. According to the chart, Colorado had received just 11% of its requested N95 masks; 11.5% of the requested surgical masks; 40% of the face shields the state asked for; 14% of the surgical gowns it requested; 19% of the gloves requested and none of the 10,000 ventilators it has asked for at the time.
And the governor wrote to the congressional delegation about the state’s needs in the next phase of federal assistance in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
At a news conference Wednesday, Polis brushed aside a question about whether it mattered whom the president credited for facilitating the delivery of the new ventilators, saying he was “not here to do political analysis.”
He said that Colorado now had “about 500 more” ventilators than it had when the outbreak started – through private purchases, adapting other equipment and through FEMA.
He said that the hope was that enough Coloradans stay home in the next coming weeks that the hospital and ventilator overload could be avoided entirely.
But he said he was “in regular touch” with FEMA and that he had spoken to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and a small group of other governors Wednesday morning about federal supplies and about the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.
Polis said April 1 the state had placed orders from across the world for millions of items of PPE and other equipment – including 750 ventilators.
He said Wednesday that the laboratory at Colorado State University had already started testing some of the supplies received from that order – including masks, surgical gowns and other equipment.
But he said what was needed most from FEMA and all suppliers were timelines – on what date will the supplies arrive and exactly what the state is receiving so those details can be built into the state’s overall plan.