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Baldwin & Pocan to FEMA: “We Need Better Emergency Management for Wisconsin Now.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Mark Pocan (WI-02) sent a letter to Peter Gaynor, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator, detailing continued problems with the amount and usability of medical and testing supplies FEMA has delivered to Wisconsin. FEMA’s support is critical to Wisconsin’s ability to respond to the coronavirus. But, without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies from the federal government, Wisconsin will be left even more vulnerable in the face of this global pandemic that has already taken the lives of over 100,000 Americans.

“President Trump has not provided Wisconsin all the medical supplies we have requested,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin. “Shortchanging Wisconsin and sending us unusable medical supplies is simply not acceptable and it’s not going to help our state move forward. The President’s mismanagement of the medical supply chain throughout this pandemic is just one of the many failures of this administration’s response to the public health crisis we continue to face. This White House needs to deliver the medical supplies Wisconsin desperately needs to shut down this pandemic, safely reopen our economy and put people back to work.”

“This administration turned its back on the people of Wisconsin early on in this pandemic. First, the Trump administration failed to get our state the supplies it needs to expand testing and protect our communities. Then, when they finally get us supplies, they send many that are unusable for the pandemic. This pattern of apparent negligence from the top has a human cost and our state cannot tolerate this administration’s incompetence any longer. We still are not getting the supplies we need in the quantities necessary to fight Covid-19. And too often, when we received supplies, they weren’t usable for the purposes required. More than 60 days into a national emergency, these mistakes cannot continue to be made – they will cost human lives,” said Congressman Mark Pocan. “FEMA has been very helpful in setting up testing facilities in several parts of Wisconsin which has been appreciated. But this far into the pandemic, we need far quicker and more robust help in getting PPE, reagents and other supplies to Wisconsin and the rest of the nation. That’s the real emergency management we need from this White House.”

There were systematic problems in late March and April with getting supplies to Wisconsin. There appeared to be a renewed interest, specifically from FEMA, in getting supplies to the states in late April, but according to actual records of items received, the problems continue.

Most recently, Governor Tony Evers laid out the supplies the state needed in an April 30 letter to FEMA. Almost a month later, we’ve received only about 22% of what we have requested—including zero surgical gowns.

Even when Wisconsin has received supplies from FEMA, some of the most critical materials have been completely unusable. 17,000 saline tubes are too short to transport the nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs used for the majority of COVID-19 tests, and 67,983 foam applicators that cannot be used for NP swabs either. 

In some cases, confusion has been the major problem. The federal government has failed to provide adequate supplies for our state’s clinical and private labs—paralyzing our ability to expand testing capacity statewide. Originally, FEMA was the procurer of tests and the reagents needed to run them, then it became the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but during that shift the majority of labs in the state were refused help. The majority of labs conducting COVID-19 tests in Wisconsin are clinical or private labs experiencing severe shortages of reagents, yet this administration refuses to supply those reagents.

See the full letter below and here.


Dear Administrator Gaynor:

Thank you for the assistance the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has provided to the state of Wisconsin during the COVID-19 pandemic. FEMA’s support has been critical to our ability to effectively respond to this crisis, which is why we write to express our concern about the amount and usability of the medical and testing supplies FEMA has delivered to Wisconsin.

At the request of Region V FEMA Administrator James Joseph, Wisconsin’s Governor sent an updated letter to FEMA on April 30, 2020 laying out the state’s request for supplies to combat the COVID-19 crisis including N95 masks, medical gowns, gloves and testing supplies. Please see the table attached to this letter outlining what Wisconsin has requested and what it has received over the last month.

While FEMA has provided significant materials including over 358,600 N-95 masks, 159,000 medical gloves, and thousands of surgical masks to Wisconsin, in some cases the quantity of supplies received is far less than what the state requested. For instance, Wisconsin has requested 273,631 surgical gowns but has received none. Last week, the state had less than one week’s worth of medical gowns on hand. More than two months into this national emergency, this is unacceptable.

We also have serious concerns with the usability of some of swabs and viral transport tubes FEMA shipped to Wisconsin. On May 11th, the President announced a plan to provide weekly shipments of swabs and viral transport tubes to each state for their testing needs for May and June. While this was extremely welcome news, we recently learned that a majority of the swabs and transport vials shipped to Wisconsin are unusable. For example, 17,000 saline tubes are too short to transport the nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs used for the majority of COVID-19 tests, and 67,983 foam applicators cannot be used for NP swabs. More than 60 days into a national emergency, these mistakes cannot continue to be made – they will cost human lives.

In addition to these concerns, we remain frustrated by the lack of support for clinical and private labs in Wisconsin, including a serious need for reagents from the federal government. FEMA has blanketly declined to support the state’s request for any testing supplies, other than swabs, and referred Wisconsin to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) International Reagent Resource (IRR). This is not an adequate response. The CDC will only support supplies for Wisconsin’s two state public health labs, yet the majority of labs conducting COVID-19 tests are clinical or private labs experiencing severe shortages of reagents. This is a concern we have heard from colleagues around the country. Therefore, we urge you to reconsider FEMA’s role in supporting the stability of the reagent supply chain to ensure states can safely re-open and implement the President’s National Testing Plan recommendation to have each state conducting diagnostic tests on at least two percent of their population this month.

Again, thank you for your work to help our nation combat COVID-19. We urge you to immediately provide surgical gowns to Wisconsin, and to ensure that the weekly shipments of swabs and vials being shipped to Wisconsin for testing capacity are actually useable for COVID-19 diagnostic tests.