OLYMPIA — Washington has gathered enough medical protective gear to guard against the coronavirus to enable state officials to share the equipment more widely, Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday.
The state is working to build a local supply chain of protective gear, Inslee said, as Washington continues to compete with other states and nations for scarce supplies amid a global pandemic that shows little sign of slowing.
In a news conference Wednesday, Inslee urged qualified entities — such as hospitals and homeless shelters — to request protective gear through their county emergency operations officials.
Long-term care and child-care facilities, as well as first responders, also qualify to receive equipment such as surgical and N95 masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and other supplies.
Other congregate settings — places where people are in regular close contact, such as prisons and meatpacking plants — that have confirmed cases of COVID-19 are also allowed to request those supplies from the government.
“In recent weeks, for the first time, we were able to fulfill nearly all the requests for most all of these items,” Inslee said.
As of Tuesday, the state had acquired about 80 million pieces of personal protective equipment, Inslee said, with another 200 million items purchased and on the way.
That effort got a big boost, Inslee said, when a U.S. federal agency on Sunday approved a new respirator mask made by Chinese automotive conglomerate BYD Co.
That approval will allow Washington state officials to complete an order of 55 million N95 masks from BYD. The state has received 5 million of those masks so far.
The federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile has, meanwhile, supplied about 4 million pieces of such gear. Inslee said the federal government must step up its efforts.
“We need to build a stockpile nationally, we need to have access to that stockpile, and we need that to be quick,” Inslee said.
The governor Wednesday sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence urging the federal government to do more to manufacture and coordinate the distribution of medical gear and supplies to states.
The efforts by Inslee and the state to secure more masks and other scarce supplies hasn’t been without hiccups.
Early in the pandemic, with a shortage of access to U.S. government-approved N95 masks, state officials opted for a Chinese-made alternative. But state officials by early May canceled more than half that order after the equipment failed quality checks.
Those troubles and delays for orders of medical gear from BYD Co. and other suppliers left hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters seeking protective equipment however they could find it.