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Report: Federal Agency Shipped Face Masks Overseas as Veterans Affairs Hospital Rationed Them

Boxes of N95 protective masks for use by medical field personnel in New Rochelle, New York, March 17, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

A federal agency reportedly shipped face masks overseas from a Miami warehouse even as a nearby Veterans Affairs hospital was rationing them due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had a warehouse of face masks sitting unused in Miami while a Veterans Affairs hospital in the city was telling its health care workers to use the same face mask for an entire week, Fox News reported.

Later, USAID exported the masks overseas. Since then, however, the administration has reportedly halted USAID shipments of personal protective equipment out of the country.

The administration is also considering cracking down on private companies that persist in shipping supplies out of the country even as U.S. states grapple with a shortage of the life-saving supplies, potentially increasing the death toll from the coronavirus. The restrictions will likely come in an order President Trump intends to sign Friday targeting American “shady brokers,” who sell masks and ventilators to foreign countries at high prices.

Governor Cuomo of New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak with more than 92,000 cases, said Thursday that the state only has enough ventilators to last six more days. On Friday, Cuomo signed an order allowing the state National Guard to appropriate ventilators and personal protective equipment from hospitals and medical institutions and transfer them where they are most needed. Ventilators are desperately needed to treat cases of the coronavirus, a respiratory virus that attacks the lungs and causes shortness of breath.

“It’s not that we’re going to leave any health care facility without adequate equipment, but they don’t need excess equipment now,” Cuomo said.

States have also turned to buying ventilators from private manufacturers, where they compete with both the federal government and other states.

“It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator,” the New York governor said of the process.

Meanwhile, the federal government is evaluating which states should receive the nearly 10,000 ventilators it had available in its stockpile as of Thursday. The government has also been unable to fill more than 90 percent of the requested number of N95 protective face masks.

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