FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 3, 2020
Barragán Urges Federally-Owned Personal Protective Equipment Go To Doctors and Nurses Ahead of ICE Agents
Washington, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán led her colleagues in urging the Department of Homeland Security to deliver a stockpile of 1.5 million expired N95 respirator masks to medical facilities hardest hit by the COVID-19 public health emergency.
A story in yesterday’s Washington Post reported that DHS has decided to send this protective gear to the Transportation Administration Agency and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
“Talk about the wrong priorities,” Congresswoman Barragán said. “It is outrageous that DHS found more than one million protective masks critically needed by medical professionals and decided to send them to ICE agents instead of doctors and nurses treating patients with COVID-19.”
An earlier Washington Post story reported on the discovery of 1.5 million expired respirator masks at a DHS warehouse in Indiana.
During a March 27 telebriefing, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter T. Gaynor told Members of Congress and Senators that the expired masks would be distributed to healthcare workers where there is the greatest need for them. Comments in yesterday’s news story, however, indicate that is no longer the case.
In a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, Barragán and her colleagues wrote: “We demand that you honor the commitment by Administrator Gaynor on the Member call and assist our healthcare workers by distributing the N95 respirator masks to the providers who have the greatest need for them. Our healthcare workers are on the frontlines of this battle against COVID-19 and need the proper equipment to win this fight.”
Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Kathleen M. Rice (D-N.Y.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Jesus “Chuy” Garciá (D-Ill.), Al Green (D-Texas), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Debbie-Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Scott H. Peters (D-Ohio), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Veronica Escobar D-Texas) joined Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) on the letter.
A PDF on the letter can be found here.
Text of the letter follows.
April 3, 2020
The Honorable Chad Wolf
Department of Homeland Security
1880 2nd Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20024
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:
We write during this extraordinary national health crisis to urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deliver the stockpile of 1.5 million expired N95 respirator masks that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has in storage to medical facilities hardest-hit by the COVID-19 virus. We are very concerned and disappointed with recent reporting in The Washington Post yesterday that DHS has decided to provide this protective gear to the Transportation Administration Agency (TSA) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and we strongly urge you to reconsider. While we understand some of the masks may be needed for TSA agents, the remainder should be prioritized for our medical professionals who are on the frontline saving lives and fighting the COVID-19 virus.
As our country continues to grapple with the frightening COVID-19 pandemic, over 230,000 people have been infected with the virus and over 5,000 have lost their lives. And our health experts warn us that the worst is yet to come. These numbers will continue to increase exponentially unless our state and federal governments are unified in their response. We need to ensure that our medical professionals have the appropriate equipment to minimize the spread of the virus and treat the patients who are infected. Ending the pandemic depends on this.
N95 respirator masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are in short supply at the hardest-hit hospitals in states like New York, New Jersey, and California. There are reports of hospital staff reusing disposable masks for multiple patients and wearing improvised PPE including plastic sheet protectors, ski goggles, plastic garbage bags, and Halloween costumes to cover their faces while treating patients. This is unacceptable and unconscionable. We need to ensure that our medical professionals have the appropriate equipment to minimize the spread of the virus and treat the patients who are infected. Ending the pandemic depends on this.
On March 27, 2020 during a telebriefing for Members of Congress and Senators, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Gaynor ensured us that the N95 respirator masks would be allocated to governors of the states where conditions are the worst, such as New York and New Jersey. However, it is clear that we were misled by DHS’ assurances.
We demand that you honor the commitment by Administrator Gaynor on the Member call and assist our healthcare workers by distributing the N95 respirator masks to the providers who have the greatest need for them. Our healthcare workers are on the frontlines of this battle against COVID-19 and need the proper equipment to win this fight.
Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Carson, Compton, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, Walnut Park, Watts, Willowbrook and Wilmington.