NC leaders say they’re struggling to get equipment for patients, health care providers

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As North Carolina and the country prepare for a surge of patients at hospitals due to the COVID-19 outbreak, state leaders say they’re struggling to get equipment for both patients and health care providers.

North Carolina has received about 17 percent of personal protective equipment requested form the Strategic National Stockpile, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. This includes equipment such as masks, gloves, face shields and coveralls.

When asked about the supply issue and whether the federal government needs to improve coordinating the distribution of supplies among states, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) told CBS17 in an interview, “Well, we’re looking at a number of things. Number one, how much of the need is being supplied by the private providers who are ramping up their capability, how much of it’s coming from the stockpile. It’s my understanding that right now 25 percent of the distribution from the stockpile is based on state population. And, what we’re trying to do is make sure North Carolina’s getting its fair share.”

The North Carolina Nurses Association told state lawmakers Thursday morning that getting enough personal protective equipment (PPE) is the “most anxiety-provoking issue,” adding that the state has about 30 percent of the supplies it needs statewide.

Democrat Cal Cunningham, who is running against Tillis in the November election, tweeted Thursday, “Take it directly from our state’s nurses. The stockpile is depleted and hospitals don’t have what they need. The administration should expand the use of the Defense Production Act- which they have used thousands of times before this crisis- right now.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said states are competing against one another on the open marketplace in an effort to secure more supplies. 

“Well, I think a part of what we have to do is, the requests for supplies are all over the map,” Tillis said. “So, what we’re working to do is normalize the numbers and make sure they’re going out on a fair basis, particularly where the data actually suggests that the need is the greatest. It’s a lot like the way that we have to respond in North Carolina to hurricanes. We have a number of jurisdictions asking for support, but you’ve got to look at the track of the storm and the way that we’re looking at the track of the infection rates, the death rates and try to surge what we have.”

Tillis supported the CARES Act, the $2 trillion bill Congress passed last week aimed at stabilizing the U.S. economy and providing relief to those impacted by sudden job losses.

The bill, which President Donald Trump signed soon after it passed, provides one-time checks to taxpayers and an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits for those who qualify.

The Trump administration has said Americans should expect to see that money within three weeks.

Some members of Congress are already discussing passing another stimulus package, especially if the social distancing measures being undertaken now continue for several more weeks.

Tillis said, “The last thing I want to do is shift attention away from the $2 trillion we authorized last week. We need to make sure that that gets into households as quickly as possible, that the funding support for businesses so they can make payroll, potentially not lay people off, we’ve got to focus on that while we’re also focusing on flattening the curve. Whether or not we have to do a substantial bill after (the CARES Act) is going to depend on how we peak, whether we can flatten the curve.”

Before being elected to the Senate, Tillis served as Speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives. At the time, he supported reducing the total of number of weeks North Carolinians can qualify for state unemployment benefits and the maximum amount of money people can receive each week.

When asked about that decision, Tillis said, “When we made that decision, North Carolina had a three-billion-dollar debt to the federal government. Now, we have nearly a three-billion-dollar surplus. Our state is one of the most prepared to provide benefits to those who need it. The legislature can make a call about a temporary cessation of the duration if we need to. But, the only reason we’re in that position is because we decided to make sure we were on sound financial footing.”

Tillis’s fellow senator from North Carolina, Republican Richard Burr, is under scrutiny for selling as much as $1.7 million in mid-February just before the market began to fall and as government health officials began to issue stark warnings about the effects of the virus.

Burr has called for a Senate ethics investigation. CNN reported this week that the Justice Department is looking into the matter. Burr has faced calls to resign from Democrats and some Republicans.

“Well, I think the Senate ethics investigation was appropriate. I’m glad that Senator Burr called for it. I also understand that the Department of Justice is looking into it, and we’ll wait on them to respond with the facts. But, I think he set that in motion. And, at the appropriate regulatory agencies and justice agencies are looking into it as well,” Tillis said.

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