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Walz says equipment shortage is a concern, vows to supply front-line workers

The governor called the shortage of personal protective equipment a "huge" problem and said the state plans to increase the supply.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Calling the shortage of personal protective equipment a “huge problem,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a media call on Monday that front-line workers must have adequate amounts of masks, gloves, gowns, and other resources in the coming weeks to fight COVID-19.

With healthcare workers, first responders, and others in the emergency sector raising the alarm about COVID-19 exposure, Walz acknowledged that the need for “PPE” will only become more pressing when the cases reach their peak in Minnesota.  

“We will get them when the time comes,” Walz said, adding: “This is one of the leading problems.”

States like Minnesota have looked to the National Strategic Stockpile for resources, but many have been frustrated to find limited medical supplies, as there don’t appear to be enough PPE or ventilators to fulfill all 50 states’ requests. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now overseeing the stockpile, which Walz said would help – but not solve the whole problem.

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“You can’t depend on that. While they are pushing some out, it’s not enough,” Walz said. “What I can tell you here, is, it’s our commitment to get that into the hands of our front-line folks.”

Alice Roberts-Davis, the state’s Commissioner of Administration and the person now in charge of the critical care supply work stream, said Minnesota is preparing for both short-term and long-term needs. By studying models, the state hopes to gain a better understanding of what the need for PPE will look like when cases do reach the peak.

And, in the mean time, increased production from local manufacturers like 3M and donations through non-profits like the Salvation Army have attempted to fill the gap. 

But Roberts-Davis said it’s still a difficult challenge.

“We know there’s an urgent need for masks, and gloves, and gowns and other PPE in our healthcare facilities today. So we are aggressively sourcing those items as quickly as possible,” Roberts-Davis said. “We will continue to use every public and private resource available to us, to get the protective equipment to the front-line health care workers.”

Emergency responders also fear COVID-19 exposure due to lack of resources. Therese Caouette, the sister of a Minneapolis firefighter, said her whole family is worried about a lack of masks and PPE right now. Hoping to raise awareness, she submitted an op-ed to a local newspaper to share her sister’s story.

“It’s a very scary time for her,” Caouette said. “As a family, we just have to figure out how do we back her up and support her – as well as the whole community?”

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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