Southern States Spending Millions on Coronavirus Medical Equipment

The expenditure data, part of a 50-state effort by The Associated Press to learn what states were spending on often hard-to-get supplies, shows Georgia led the way among the three states on expenditures or purchases in the works.

by Andy Sher, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn / June 2, 2020
AP
Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama governments have collectively committed nearly a quarter billion dollars to medical equipment and supplies in their responses to the coronavirus pandemic, public records show.

The expenditure data, part of a 50-state effort by The Associated Press to learn what states were spending on often hard-to-get supplies, shows Georgia led the way among the three states on expenditures or purchases in the works.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's administration as of May 15 had spent or ordered an estimated $114 million for specialized N95 masks, nitrile gloves, face shields, medical gowns, hand sanitizer and other equipment and supplies.

The state spent $18.22 million alone on 1,200 high-cost mechanical ventilators, the special devices used to provide oxygen to dangerously ill COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe, according to AP data.

Tennessee had spent or placed orders for equipment in seven categories totaling $93.51 million as of May 15, according to information provided by AP to the Times Free Press at the newspaper's request.
That included $6.92 million for 186 ventilators, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener told the Times Free Press.

Alabama officials told AP they had spent about $40 million on equipment and supplies as well as $6.5 million on ventilators. Some items remained on order pending production and/or shipment.

AP surveyed all 50 states on their expenditures, finding they were spending more than $6 billion on medical supplies such as masks and breathing machines during the coronavirus pandemic.

That figure is an undercount for a number of reasons, including several states that did not provide the information. Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee all provided data.

A seven-category list provided by Flener to the Times Free Press shows Tennessee's highest number of items purchased or ordered were 27 million medical gowns followed by 23.4 million respirator masks, which are protective devices designed to achieve very close facial fits and highly efficient filtration of airborne particles for medical personnel.

Next highest supplies by volume were surgical masks: 17.2 million of them. Tennessee has purchased or ordered 8 million Tyvek suits, which provide medical workers and first responders with full body protection. The state also bought or ordered 3 million gloves and 265,000 shoe coverings.
Flener told the Times Free Press he did not have at this point breakdowns of costs by equipment category.

"We will need some more time to provide costs in these PPE supply categories, in order to review the individual purchases to reach subtotal dollar amounts," Flener said.

Tennessee will seek reimbursement from the federal government for its expenditures through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is part of Congress' Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Flener said.

"As with all federal funding programs implemented to address disasters and emergencies, the state, local, territory, or tribal government must spend the funds first on eligible costs and then seek federal reimbursement," Flener explaind. "PPE purchases and costs for Tennessee's alternate care hospitals are expenditures eligible for reimbursement under the Coronavirus Relief Fund."

Georgia's reporting of individual purchases and orders were detailed and provided amounts, names of vendors and more. State purchases included $6.2 million individual orders for 200,000 hazardous materials suits and two million surgical masks. There were multiple orders for specific types of equipment and gear.

Georgia's list included items such as instant infrared thermometers, which were not provided on Tennessee's list.
Among other purchases, Georgia reported spending $141,000 for 60,000 8-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer from Cosco, which is the name of a Georgia-based cosmetics products company.

Georgia officials also spent $240,000 on 120,000 8-ounce spray sanitizer bottles from Atlanta-based Old Fourth Distillery. In a "remarks" section on the spreadsheet, it noted the bottles were needed to distribute 10,000 gallons of sanitizer with an official noting in the remarks section that "this allowed us to get it out faster."

Tennessee data did not show how much the state was spending on hand sanitizer, which was in short supply until recently.
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