A shipment of one million N95 masks to Miami-Dade County firefighters was confiscated by the federal government last week, say top Miami-Dade officials.
The move came just as county firefighters ramped up a program to begin at-home COVID-19 testing for Miami-Dade residents who are homebound and cannot make it to drive-thru testing sites.
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“We were going to meet the plane and actually take them. That's like gold, you know. But we got the word from the company that they had been taken from the federal government,” said Frank Rollason, the Director of Emergency Management for the county. “We thought we were in pretty good shape with having that amount coming in, and they were — we were — usurped.”
The masks have become such a rare commodity that Florida's largest state hospital system, HCA Florida, has been forced to restrict the usage of the masks to certain medical procedures.
Miami-Dade County is the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the state of Florida. As of Wednesday afternoon, the county had 10,153 positive cases, out of the statewide total of 28,309. The amount of cases in Miami-Dade is more than double that of Broward County — the second-highest county in Florida — which has 4,228 cases, per the Florida Department of Health.
A total of 240 deaths related to COVID-19 have happened in Miami-Dade, out of a statewide total of 893.
Miami-Dade's Fire Rescue Department confirmed that the federal government seized the masks. In the meantime, the department has been piecing together necessary equipment with smaller orders.
"[It's] certainly not as efficiently as we would like this process to be, but nonetheless, successful thus far to meet the needs of our operation for now," Chief Greg Rubin, an assistant fire chief, said in a statement.
The incident follows similar reports from across the country, with states and cities saying the federal government is routinely intercepting shipments of personal protection equipment.
In one highly publicized incident, personal protective equipment destined for Massachusetts was repeatedly seized by the federal government. To work around the seizures, Gov. Charlie Baker worked out a deal with the New England Patriots, which sent a plane to China to pick up materials and brought them back to the state.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating supply chains for the federal government, did not respond to a request for comment on this story. The Florida Division of Emergency Management did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Governor Ron DeSantis' office.
In past incidents, FEMA has responded by saying that bringing too much personal protective equipment into COVID-19 hotspots can have the “unintended consequence” of disrupting supply chains deliveries to other areas of the country.
Rollason, Miami-Dade's emergency management director, said that every day a team of people at the Fire Department has been vetting potential vendors for emergency equipment needed to address the COVID-19 crisis. As demand for the products has skyrocketed, so have cases of swindlers. “Most of them are bogus,” said Rollason.
But the shipment that was seized by the federal government last week was not one of them. That shipment, said Rollason, was legitimate and vetted.
“I say it was hijacked, because that’s what happened,” said Rollason.