Local Governments Hunt Near And Far For COVID-19 Protective Gear

Cuyahoga County has been collecting donations of personal protective equipment to supply first responders and healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19. In this still from a county video, a worker holds a package of face masks.
Cuyahoga County has been collecting donations of personal protective equipment to supply first responders and healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19. In this still from a county video, a worker holds a package of face masks. [Cuyahoga County]
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The national stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) supplied Ohio with more than 493,000 gloves, 271,000 N95 masks, 675,000 surgical masks and other gear.

But state and local leaders say those shipments weren’t enough to mount a proper defense against the coronavirus pandemic. So local governments have been asking for PPE donations — and in some cases, buying their own gear.

“I think we’re just starting with the surge right now, and it’s hard to know exactly what everybody’s going to need,” Greta Johnson, the assistant chief of staff in the Summit County executive’s office, told ideastream. “Everybody wants to have a reserve.”

County emergency management agencies have been fielding requests for protective equipment, distributing donated supplies and precious allocations from the national stockpile.

That has helped feed the need for PPE from medical workers and first responders. Even funeral homes have requested gear, according to Chris Barker, the emergency preparation supervisor at Summit County Public Health.

“We’re getting requests from the common pleas court, the folks who work over there who are essential and have to be on site,” Johnson said. “We’re getting requests from nursing homes all the time.”

Meanwhile, Summit County has been buying equipment and hand sanitizer for its own sizable staff, Johnson said.

Cuyahoga County received 51,500 gloves, 73,100 surgical masks, 39,120 N95 and KN95 masks and more than 13,000 gowns from the national stockpile. Like many cities, counties and hospitals, Cuyahoga has been asking for donations to supplement that allotment.

The county has also spent more than $1 million on gear, and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish on Monday committed another $2 million to purchasing PPE.

Budish and county staff have been hunting for vendors, working the phones in search of leads, he said.

“Some of them came from other county commissioners and county executives,” he said of the leads on vendors. “Some of them came from friends of mine. Some of them came from people I haven’t talked to in years but had heard that we were out there actively looking.”

Cuyahoga County leaders said they like to ask for samples before placing orders with unfamiliar or new vendors, and prefer to pay only after receiving shipments.

“And that’s been difficult,” Special Operations Chief Brandy Carney said. “People, especially now because of the demand, more and more we’re seeing that they’re asking for some of the payment up front.”

Local officials have received offers from vendors selling substandard equipment, according to Christina Fozio, director of the Medina County Emergency Management Agency.

Medina County officials cross-referenced the products with a list of PPE approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fozio said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times, I think that a lot of people have really good intentions that they think they found a really good supply chain, and they’re just not well versed in the items that they’re actually trying to sell,” Fozio said.

The emergency management agency for Medina County has distributed its national stockpile PPE allocation gradually while also seeking donations, Fozio said.

The pandemic has changed the way many local government agencies operate, and it’s not certain when the new demand for PPE will cease.

Police officers in Stow now wear masks and gloves on every call. While the city’s first responders did have some PPE on hand already, Police Chief Jeff Film said he’s been ordering more since the outbreak.

“Everybody needs these things yesterday,” Film said. “So they are back ordered. We’re working with a couple local vendors, we have some orders in.”

With help from Summit County and donations, Stow police have what they need for the moment, he said. But Film said he also has the long term to consider.

“I anticipate we’ll be using PPE here the rest of the summer and into the fall. For our long-term goals, I don’t see that we have the appropriate supplies.” Film said. “We do have orders out, and if they start coming in, we should be sufficiently supplied.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Ohio received more than 293,000 gloves from the strategic national stockpile. The correct number is more than 493,000.

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