Nearly 90% of U.S. mayors who responded to a national survey on coronavirus preparedness said they lack sufficient tests kits, face masks and other protective equipment for their emergency responders and medical workers, while 85% said they do not have enough ventilators for their hospitals – critical shortages that could lead cities and towns to be quickly overwhelmed should the virus spread through their communities.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors survey, published Friday, was conducted from March 20 to March 24 and includes data from 213 U.S. cities in 41 states and Puerto Rico, representing a combined population of 42 million. The shortages of essential items and equipment the cities are facing have “reached crisis proportions,” according to the report.
“Despite their best efforts, most cities do not have and cannot obtain adequate equipment and supplies needed to protect their residents,” the report says. “This is a life-threatening crisis that will continue unless the federal government does everything in its power to help us safeguard our first responders and health care workers – our first line of defense – and the millions of other public servants in our cities whose work today puts them at risk.”
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a nonpartisan association of U.S. mayors, said it conducted the rapid survey to draw the attention of lawmakers working on stimulus and relief legislation.
“Cities are going to be central to the nation’s response effort, and federal resources directed to the local responders on the front line will be critical to safeguarding our citizens,” the report says.
The survey found little variation between large and small cities, with jurisdictions of all sizes across the country reporting insufficient supplies. A somewhat higher percentage of large cities said they had received supplies and equipment from their state governments, but nearly two-thirds of the cities that responded said they had not received any help from their states.
Taken together, the cities reported a need for 28.5 million face masks, 24.4 million items of personal protective equipment such as gowns and gloves, 7.9 million test kits and 139,000 ventilators.
Bryan K. Barnett (R), mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the response to the crisis is not a partisan issue, nor are the shortages.
“You either have the PPE you need, or you don’t,” he said, referring to personal protective equipment. “My job isn’t to call out whether Republicans or Democrats are to blame, it’s to find out what my first responders need and get it.”
Barnett said he drove around his city, which has a population of about 75,000, collecting masks from construction sites to deliver them to fire stations. Michigan has the fifth-largest number of coronavirus cases in the nation, and his community has just a 14-day supply of masks.
“We’re all trying to locate equipment and bring it in,” he said. “The needs are immediate.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D), vice president of the Conference, said the biggest demand for his city is N95 masks. The city purchased about 250,000 masks on the private market that are due to arrive early next week, Fischer said, but his goal is to obtain at least one million.
Some wholesale distributors have raised prices from 97 cents to $5 per mask, he said: “The cost of these things is elevating fast.”
The city has had 60 confirmed coronavirus cases to date, Fischer said. Louisville received an allocation of protective gear from the national stockpile this week, and now has a three-week supply.
“We’ve got part of the federal stockpile, but most of this response has been driven by mayors and governors,” Fischer said. “Anything we get from the federal government is a bonus, but we’re not sitting around waiting for it to be the solution.”
The conference submitted a request to lawmakers March 18 for $250 billion in emergency assistance to cities to cover a range of activities and equipment purchases.
During a White House briefing Thursday, President Trump said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has delivered or will soon distribute more than 9 million N95 respirator masks, 20 million surgical masks and nearly 6,000 ventilators.
But Trump expressed skepticism later Thursday evening about some city and state requests for ventilators and supplies.
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has asked for 30,000 additional ventilators, which are used to help patients in severe respiratory distress continue to breathe. The state has more than 5,000 patients currently hospitalized with coronavirus.
Trump said that would be too many machines.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump said. “You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'”
The lack of medical supplies has had a cascading effect throughout the health care system that is “alarming,” said Nan Whaley (D), mayor of Dayton, Ohio. There are just 15 confirmed coronavirus cases in the city and surrounding county so far, but to save supplies of protective gear, local hospitals have canceled all elective surgeries, triggering steep financial losses that have forced them to furlough 40 percent of their staff as hospital administrators have taken a 30 percent pay cut, she said.
“Our health care system just doesn’t make any sense,” said Whaley, who is the Conference’s second vice president. “How is it that we are so unprepared that we’re asking women to find fabric in their houses to make face masks?”‘