Baker defends Trump comment on respirators

Tufts asks researchers for spare gear for hospital

WITH MASSACHUSETTS HOSPITALS struggling to obtain badly needed stockpiled equipment for their patients and frontline workers, Gov. Charlie Baker defended President Trump’s message to the nation’s governors on Monday that they should try getting respirators, ventilators, and other equipment themselves.

“We are backing you in terms of equipment and getting what you need,” the New York Times quoted Trump as saying, citing a leaked recording of the phone call. “Also, respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves. We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Points of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

Baker, asked by a reporter what he thought of Trump telling the governors to get the equipment on their own, said that wasn’t what he heard the president say.

“What I heard him say was the following: That the administration and the federal government have a very significant stockpile of gear of all kinds, which they are currently in the progress of distributing,” Baker said at a State House press conference. “But they believe it’s appropriate and prudent for states and their provider organizations to make clear to the manufacturers  and distributors of gear that all efforts should be made by those who are in this business to amp up the amount that they’re  manufacturing and to assume that it would be appropriate for them to not simply rely on whatever is available in the stockpile to meet the needs and expectations of the health care community. I think to have all of us doing that at this point in time is probably a good thing.”

Marylou Sudders, the governor’s secretary of health and human services, said on Saturday that Massachusetts has received only one shipment of 73,000 items from the national stockpile of safety gear. She said that shipment represented 10 percent of the administration’s request, and that a large chunk of that shipment went to Berkshire Medical Center, which was days away from running out of equipment.

Baker said on Monday that he was less concerned that the state received only 10 percent of what it requested and more concerned that the federal government was failing to set up a regular schedule for future deliveries. “Just tell us what the schedule is,” he said. “They have not given us a schedule.”

Baker’s comment was typical of how he has handled questions over the last week about the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis. The governor, a Republican, hasn’t criticized Trump directly, but instead has raised concerns about how the federal government has handled the distribution of COVID-19 test kits and its slow pace in approving additional labs to process the tests.

The situation with ventilators and personal protection equipment for frontline responders is becoming more and more acute. An internal email sent out Monday by the vice provost for research at Tufts University asked campus researchers to box up spare personal protection equipment and lab equipment so they can be used by Tufts Medical Center. The memo from Caroline Genco said the hospital is in “critical need” of the equipment.

Peter Slavin, the president of Massachusetts General Hospital, elevated the issue on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, saying he is worried about the shortage of personal protection equipment for doctors and nurses.

“Even before the most significant battles [that] lie ahead, our supplies are low,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to send soldiers into war without helmets and armor. We don’t want to do the same with our health care workers.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Four health care workers, including one at MGH, one at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and two at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have tested positive for the virus. So far, there have been 197 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 100 are related to an outbreak at a Biogen conference, 18 are travel related, 28 are categorized as local transmission, and 51 are under investigation. The state Department of Public Health said Monday that 1,296 COVID-19 tests yielded 197 positives, although some patients were tested more than once.

Sen. Ed Markey introduced a resolution urging Trump to use his existing authority to support a huge increase in the manufacture of medical supplies and testing kits to combat the spread of COVID-19. He said the Department of Health and Human Services estimated the US needs 3.5 billion respirators but has only 12 million in its national stockpile. He said Berkshire Hospital needs 3,500 respirator masks a day.