Gov. Steve Bullock told President Donald Trump on Monday that Montana needed medical supplies and testing equipment, saying the current shortage could lead to “some real problems” as coronavirus spreads across rural America.
In response to Bullock’s plea for testing supplies, Trump said, “I haven’t heard about testing being a problem,” according to an audio recording of the call published by CBS News.
In Monday’s call, which included both Democratic and Republican governors and members of the president’s cabinet, Bullock was asked by Dr. Anthony Fauci if “you feel you have any system in place that you feel can adequately identify cases and isolate them and contact trace them?”
Bullock said that while state health officials are attempting to trace the contacts of infected persons, it has been challenging given the lack of supplies and other equipment. It may become impossible if more supplies aren’t soon received, he added.
“We are trying to do contact tracing, but literally, we are one day away if we don’t get test kits from the CDC that we wouldn’t be able to do testing in Montana,” Bullock told the president.
“We have gone time and time again to the private side of this, the private market, and what the private market is telling us is that it’s the national resources that are then taking our orders apart. We’re basically getting our orders canceled.”
Bullock painted a similar picture during two separate calls with Montana media last week, saying an order by the state for nasal swabs from a private supplier had been filled and then canceled by the same supplier.
“That order was canceled by the supplier based upon demand and the fact that the federal government needed the resources,” Bullock told state media. “The reality really is that our supply capacity depends upon either active private suppliers or with the private market that’s bottle necked in part because of the federal government purchasing.”
Bullock told the president on Monday that Montana still faces a sever shortage of testing equipment and other resources. While Montana is hardly the epicenter of the virus in America, it has seen its number of cases increase over the past few weeks, reaching 177 by Monday night.
Gallatin County remains the state’s hot spot, reporting nearly 70 cases. Several cities in Montana now have reported community spread, including Missoula County, where health officials expect to see the numbers climb.
“While we’re trying to do contact tracing, we don’t have adequate tests to do it, and we don’t have PPE along the way, and we’re not finding markets to be able to do that along the way, or private suppliers,” Bullock told the president. “We do have to rely on a national chain of distribution, or we’re not going to get it.”
Front line healthcare workers in Missoula also have expressed frustrations over the past week in their lack of supplies, including nasal swabs and other materials needed to complete vital tests.
Given the limited supplies, healthcare workers have prioritized tests for those who work in high-risk settings and for high-risk patients. They suspect the number of positive cases are far greater than what’s been reported.
“We don’t know how those supplies are getting distributed to the counties,” Cindy Farr, a healthcare worker leading the local pandemic response, told the Missoula Current on Friday. “We’re all putting in our requests. We don’t have a clear sense of how or when we’ll get prioritized for that. It’s a little frustrating.”