In New York state — the center of the nation’s outbreak, with at least 1,550 deaths — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that the country’s patchwork approach to the pandemic had made it harder to get desperately needed ventilators.
“You now literally will have a company call you up and say, ‘Well, California just outbid you,’ ” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in his daily news briefing. “It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.”
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, said Tuesday that his state was “flying blind” in the fight against the coronavirus because officials did not have enough tests. When asked during an NPR interview about President Donald Trump’s comments suggesting that a chronic lack of test kits was no longer a problem in the United States, Hogan did not mince words: “Yeah, that’s just not true.”
And in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said Tuesday that it was “disturbing” to learn that a national stockpile of medical supplies was running empty.
“We are on our own,” he said.
Across the country, America’s governors are going head-to-head with the Trump administration over the need for testing supplies and ventilators, at times defying party lines. Some have sparred with the president on phone calls and in public interviews. Still others have sided with the president, or calculated that it would be easier to get the needs of their states met with support and praise.
Trump, who has been quick to pick fights with governors who have criticized his efforts, took aim at Cuomo on Tuesday, saying that the governor “shouldn’t be complaining.”
“You know what, he has a lot of ventilators,” the president said. “The problem is, with some people, no matter how much you give it’s never enough.”
As the number of coronavirus cases has exploded in the United States, threatening to overwhelm the country’s hospital system, governors have become key figures in the public fight against the virus. This week, two governors — Hogan, the Republican from Maryland, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat — teamed up to write a bipartisan op-ed, calling on the federal government to send tests, track ventilator shortages and buoy state budgets.
“The coronavirus doesn’t distinguish between red states and blue states,” they wrote in the joint piece, which appeared in The Washington Post, “and neither can we.”
In recent weeks, the president has launched broadsides against Democratic governors who accused him and his administration of failing to adequately supply states with needed medical equipment, while claiming that the federal government has “done a job the likes of which nobody’s seen” in delivering needed supplies quickly.
The White House has held more than 90 briefings with state, local and tribal leaders since January, according to data from the Trump administration. In addition to doling out federal supplies to states, Trump has also invoked the Defense Production Act to spur the private sector to make ventilators, despite resisting pressure from state governors and Democrats to use the law to accelerate the production of supplies in the days after its signing.
“President Trump has taken an unprecedented approach to communicating and working with our nation’s governors,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesman said in a statement when asked about the criticism of Hogan and others on Tuesday night. “During these difficult times, Americans are receiving comfort, hope and resources from their president, as well as their local officials, because this is an all-of-American effort.”
But governors across the country, from South Dakota to New York, have for weeks pleaded with the administration to produce supplies they say have not arrived. During a teleconference with several governors earlier in March, Trump heard from several governors who said they were still waiting for masks and ventilators, despite repeated claims from White House coronavirus task force officials that the equipment was on the way.
“The country has really stepped up like I don’t think we’ve seen it in many, many — probably decades,” Trump told the governors during the call held March 19. “It’s incredible the way they’ve stepped up. So we hope we can get rid of this thing quickly.”
The president’s tone has changed rapidly as several governors who were concerned about supplies on that call have started to speak out publicly.
At a news briefing with reporters Friday, Trump said that Whitmer, who has been a vocal critic of his administration’s coronavirus response, “has no idea what’s going on,” adding, “All she does is say, ‘Oh, it’s the federal government’s fault.’ ”
At different points, Trump has directed Vice President Mike Pence to stop calling Whitmer and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat who has also criticized the administration’s response.
“I want them to be appreciative,” the president said. “We’ve done a great job.”
On Tuesday, officials in Michigan said the state had received three shipments of supplies from the federal government, including about 1 million masks and hundreds of thousands of gloves, allocated by population size. They said they had also requested additional supplies from the federal government: Of thousands of ventilators requested, they had received about 400.
All of the supplies sent to Michigan had been working and usable, a state representative said. In California, officials said 170 ventilators sent to Los Angeles had been unusable and were sent to a Silicon Valley company for repair.
Trump struck a cooperative tone at the White House in a news conference Tuesday as he detailed his calls with governors to a group of reporters. He said that he had spoken to Whitmer and that a field hospital with 250 beds would be established in Michigan.
The need for more supplies has become a central issue as the coronavirus has spread, foretelling months of crisis. One model, created by scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, predicts that deaths from the virus in the United States will rise rapidly during the month of April, from about 4,000 to almost 60,000, even with the many restrictions on movement now in place. The study suggests that the pace of deaths will eventually slow down, reaching a total of about 84,000 by the beginning of August.
Trump recently extended federal social distancing guidelines at least through the end of April.
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White House officials have struggled with the idea of federal mandates, preferring to take a traditionally conservative small-government approach to the crisis. Officials have at times discussed the idea of a national curfew or similarly stringent measures — only to have those dismissed by higher-ranking players.
That has left governors to make their own decisions about whether to take the significant step of ordering residents to stay home, creating a split across the United States, with more than 30 states issuing some type of statewide stay-at-home instruction.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has been criticized for refusing to set more statewide mandates as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus there has soared to more than 6,700, said Tuesday that one reason he had not was because the White House’s task force had not recommended it.
“If they do, that’s something that would carry a lot of weight with me,” said DeSantis, a Republican who has been conciliatory to the White House and received praise in return.
“He’s been doing a great job in every respect,” Trump said of DeSantis, whom he speaks with regularly and who has been aggressive in his requests to the government to supply masks and ventilators to his state.
Trump also has an ally in Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who has not issued a statewide stay-at-home order and who spoke positively of the federal response Tuesday. Abbott said that governors in the United States have conference calls once or twice a week with federal officials, including the president, the vice president and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the lead coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force. “They are constantly — they at the federal level — are constantly working on increasing supplies,” he said. “We are anticipating far greater supplies coming forward.”
But other governors who have taken an aggressive approach were adamant that more supplies were needed.
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, said on CNN on Tuesday that it was difficult to project when cases would peak in his state, in part because there were not enough tests. “That is not unique to Ohio,” he said. “We have seen that throughout the country. That’s been a real challenge.”
The Ohio Health Department Tuesday said that it had received thousands of gowns, masks and gloves from the federal government, but that even combined with what the state has on hand, the stockpile would not be enough to protect health care workers and emergency medical workers.
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Cuomo, at the center of the crisis in New York, has taken to appealing directly to Trump and key federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Time to say to that federal government and to FEMA and HHS: You have to learn how to do your job,” he said. “And you have to learn how to do it quickly.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .