How states have responded to the growing spread of COVID-19 has largely depended on governors' decisions. The result has been a patchwork of containment strategies across the country. Numerous officials have called on the federal government to create a more coordinated national response. That includes Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, who represents Michigan's 8th Congressional District.
Slotkin said there are a number of things that the federal government should be doing, both in the short and long term, to aid states with surging numbers of COVID-19 patients. The first would be to appoint what she calls an emergency medical supply czar. Leaders in the military and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as Vice President Mike Pence, are all working on the issue of medical supply shortages, but Slotkin said that there needs to be one person connecting the dots between those separate efforts.
“Senior attention on these issues is important, but what I don’t see is a standing regular meeting where all those folks come to the same table. They make sure they know, you know, the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, and they get guidance for their work in the greater context.”
Slotkin said that FEMA should have been working on organizing a national response earlier. That lack of action delayed supplies like personal protection equipment (PPE) getting to the areas that needed it, she said. While states have stepped in to try and get PPE and equipment like ventilators to their hospitals, Slotkin said that it makes sense for FEMA to eventually take the lead managing the supply chain for critical medical equipment.
“This is going to go on for a while, and it’s important that we get a better system than the one we have now, which is just the open market competition, prices going up, and ultimately the taxpayer paying way more, for instance, per mask than they should have. I don’t want [FEMA] to disrupt [states] in the near term, but looking three or four weeks out, FEMA certainly could be doing a better job centralizing supply.”
While it is still early on in the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., Slotkin said she anticipates the lessons learned during the course of this pandemic will change the country forever. She compared it to the way American society shifted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“Before 9/11, we didn’t take off our shoes before we went through TSA, and we were able to carry our water bottles, and we could go into any building we wanted without showing ID. We changed as a society, and I think that we’re set to have the same thing after COVID-19.”
This article was written by Stateside production assistant Olive Scott.