States trash PPE stockpiles worth tens of millions: AP

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, states scrambled to secure masks, medical gowns and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Much of those items have sat in stockpiles and with product expiration dates approaching, states are throwing out troves of PPE worth millions, according to a report from The Associated Press.     

The nation's federal stockpile was not equipped for the demand that came with COVID-19's arrival, leaving states to take matters into their own hands. They purchased hundreds of millions of products in costly deals with private companies. 

"There was no way to know, at the time of purchase, how long the supply deficit would last or what quantities would be needed," Ken Gordon, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Health, told the news outlet. 

Now, aging products, a surplus of supplies and a lack of takers to accept donations led to states throwing away troves of PPE. The AP sent inquiries to all 50 states regarding PPE stockpiles and learned at least 15 have had to toss tens of millions of products. 

At least 18 million masks, 22 million gowns and 500,000 gloves have been tossed. These figures are likely a significant undercount as some states did not give the publication exact figures. In any case, the waste is costly. Maryland said it disposed of more than  $93 million in supplies. Expiring PPE in Ohio had cost about $29 million in federal funds.

"What a real waste," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told the AP. "That's what happens when you don't prepare, when you have a bust-and-boom public health system. It shows we really have to do a better job of managing our stockpiles." 

States told the news outlet they invested a great deal in trying to limit how much ultimately got trashed. Washington, for example, sent hundreds of thousands of supplies to the Marshall Islands in 2022. Some states said expired supplies were used for limited purposes, such as training exercises. Many states indicated they are keeping at least a portion of their remaining supplies with some planning to update their stockpiles. Missouri, for instance, is keeping even expired materials, assuming the federal government would OK their use in an emergency at an insured cost of $29 million. 

Despite politicians' vows in 2020 to never be caught so off guard again, the situation has underscored the complex nature of striking a balance between supply preparedness and wastefulness, leaders told the news outlet.


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