The state of Missouri has spent more than $17 million in effort to protect health care workers and first responders, and that figure is expected to rise sharply before the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Missouri Director of Public Safety Sandy Karsten explained that the state is up against a nationwide demand for the equipment that protects health care workers and emergency responders from any viruses or bacteria that their patients may be carrying and actively transmitting.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still developing here in Missouri and across our nation, it is already clear it will have a more sweeping impact on the entire state of Missouri than any other previous disaster that has impacted our citizens,” Karsten said.
PPE has become a hot button topic for state government agencies across the country, Karsten said.
“In every disaster, there is a commodity that is in high demand,” Karsten said.
Karsten gave the examples of sandbags in flood events, generators after ice storms and tarps after storms producing high winds that damage roofs.
“With the corona-pandemic, the precious commodity we work with is PPE—personal protective equipment. It is the No. 1 issue we are hearing about from hospitals, from long term care facilities, from EMS, from the fire service and from law enforcement,” Karsten said.
Gov. Mike Parson redirected $18 million from Missouri’s state government budget. On March 25, Karsten announced the shift of an additional $11 million, for a total of $29 million. That money comes largely from the Missouri Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health and Senior Services, and the Missouri Department of Social Services.
The State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and the Department of Public Service have spent $17.3 million buying equipment from different vendors, as of March 24.
“The single most requested item is N95 respirators. In response, we have purchased more than 4.2 million N95 respirators at a cost of $10 million,” Karsten said.
SEMA is also working to acquire gloves, surgical masks and gowns, goggles, biohazard bags, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer.
“We expect to take delivery at our state warehouse over the next few weeks and we have our logistics team and a distribution plan ready to go to turn the PPE around in the state to the people who need it as soon as possible,” Karsten said.
SEMA is working to purchase additional protective equipment, Karsten said, including some through FEMA through a federal request.
“At the same time, we are encouraging our response partners to purchase PPE directly for themselves when they have an opportunity to acquire it through their commercial vendors, and to keep all of their purchase documentation,” Karsten said.
PPE is going to be important, the governor said. Health workers and first responders will also rely on everyone to see social distancing guidelines from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and to follow stay at home guidelines from their local governments, such as the orders enacted in Christian County and in Ozark on March 26.
“It’s going to take personal responsibility at the end of the day. It’s going to take people abiding by the laws, abiding by the orders to be able to pass this virus, to be able to get to where we can move on from this,” Parson said.
While many cities and counties have issued stay at home orders, which bar all non-essential travel in Missouri, Parson has not issued such an order statewide.
“Right now, we should all focus on trying to make sure we are doing our part as individuals, not relying on government to tell you everything to do. We’ve got to step up as individuals in the state of Missouri. We’ve got to step up as parents, we’ve got to step up as grandparents, and young adults, you’ve got to step up to be able to do your part,” Parson said. “We know what it takes to slow this virus down, but it’s not government, it’s all of us taking individual responsibility.”
Missouri PPE purchase numbers
As of March 24, 2020
$18 million through a special request from the governor
4.2 million N95 masks
95,000 three-layer surgical masks
335,000 bottles of hand sanitizer