FEMA administrator says more masks are being shipped from stockpile amid shortage

He could not provide details on a concrete timeline to meet the country's demand

March 22, 2020, 11:37 AM

Critical medical gear is still in short supply as the nation grapples with new coronavirus, and while Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said masks are in the midst of shipping from the national stockpile, he could not provide details on a concrete timeline.

"They're shipping today, they shipped yesterday, they'll ship tomorrow," Gaynor said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.

"When you say 'they,' how many? Which masks? The new masks?" Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz pressed.

"I mean, it is hundreds of thousands of millions of things that we're shipping from the stockpile. I can't give you the details about what every single state or what every single city is doing," Gaynor said. "But I'm telling you that we are shipping from our national stockpile, we're shipping from vendors, we're shipping from donations. It is happening. The demand is great."

Raddatz pushed Gaynor further: would health care systems become overwhelmed before masks arrive?

"We are shipping. All those supplies, to all the demands, all the asks, all the governance, every day, we are -- we're prepared to go to zero in the stockpile to meet demand," Gaynor said.

Gaynor acknowledged the shortage of test kits and personal protective equipment on Saturday and noted that FEMA had only been "at this for 48 hours." On Sunday, he again said he was "well aware" of the demand and that his focus is on meeting that need now.

Raddatz pressed for clarity, asking why the masks have not been shipped to urgent care facilities and how are we in such bad shape today in terms of supply.

"My focus is today," Gaynor said. "Filling all the demands that have been an issue, filling the demands that we get today, tomorrow, and through the next month, to make sure that we find -- connect the supply with the demand, and meet that need."

Raddatz followed up to ask if FEMA's involvement should have ramped up sooner, "and why didn't it?"

"You know, I'm not gonna look back on what should have been done or what wasn't done," Gaynor said. "We can do that at a later time. Again, my focus as the lead for coordinating of federal operations is -- is on today. We can look back at another day. My eyes are focused today, tomorrow, the next day, in order to beat this coronavirus."

PHOTO: FEMA Administrator, Peter Gaynor, speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House, on March 21, 2020, in Washington.
FEMA Administrator, Peter Gaynor, speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House, on March 21, 2020, in Washington.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

FEMA leadership has insisted that they've been fulfilling the agency’s mandate but had to take a back seat to Health and Human Services, because -- unlike a hurricane or tornado -- this is a public-health emergency.

It also comes amid reports that the president and his administration were aware of COVID-19's global danger as early as January -- all while Trump was downplaying the threat. Gaynor on Sunday pointed to HHS' prior role and their responsibility for any impending public warnings.

"HHS has been the lead for that, they kind of own that mission," Gaynor said. "I was not part of any of those discussions, whether they're reported or factual."

FEMA officials have for days refused to provide a single concrete example of what the agency is doing or has done -- beyond planning -- in starting aid to the nation's public health system amid the crisis.

The agency has been operating internally to prepare for a presidential mobilization order, which came last Friday, a senior FEMA official told ABC News.

Gaynor had senior members of his team inside the Health and Human Services command center, ABC News reported last week, and FEMA personnel had been working on a coronavirus response for a full month before being brought in by Trump.

Tom Bossert, former Trump homeland security and counterterrorism adviser and ABC News contributor, said he was concerned the health system would be overwhelmed.

"I'm not trying to be alarmist," Bossert said. "Think of it this way -- Administrator Gaynor said, 'every single governor is looking for the same thing' - that is a problem."

Bossert also said resources should be focused in the epicenters of the problem: New York, California and Washington state.

"In New York City, the hospitals are already underwater," said ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton, echoing Bossert. "There is literally brewing confusion and chaos on a clinical level here."

In a separate interview on ”This Week," former acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan emphasized the unknown nature of the new coronavirus and the new phase in combatting its spread.

"This is a completely different pathogen, and it's created challenges that are unique and different," he said on Sunday. "The scale of this is very different -- and what I see in this crisis right now is that we've reached a very important point."

ABC News Chief Investigative Reporter Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

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This report was featured in the Monday, March 23, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

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