U.S. sent 17.8 tons of masks, respirators, other PPE to China in February

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A nurse at a drive up COVID-19 coronavirus testing station set up by the University of Washington Medical Center exits a tent while holding a bag containing a swab used to take a sample from the nose of a person in their car, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Seattle. UW Medicine is conducting drive-thru testing in a hospital parking garage and has screened hundreds of staff members, faculty and trainees for the COVID-19 coronavirus. U.S. hospitals are setting up triage tents, calling doctors out of retirement, guarding their supplies of face masks and making plans to cancel elective surgery as they brace for an expected onslaught of coronavirus patients. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

As states fighting the COVID-19 novel coronavirus detail their struggles with shortages of personal protective equipment, a U.S. State Department release revealing a 17.8 ton donation of masks, respirators and other PPE to China has come under increased scrutiny.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about the humanitarian relief on February 7. A State Department release that same day offered more details about “the transportation of nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.”


In recent days, governors from some of the hardest hit states have been asking for more PPE for their hospitals and medical providers on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said Monday that states were “competing” with other states and even other countries to buy PPE and shared a chart detailing his requests for equipment and what orders had been filled.

“The truth is that I was on the phone yesterday talking to companies and here’s what I ran into: in one case we’re competing for ventilators with FEMA and the federal government,” Pritzker told NBC. “So Illinois is bidding for ventilators against the federal government. In another case, we were bidding against foreign countries and other states. And so what’s happening too, not just on ventilators but on all the PPE that we need, prices are being ratcheted up and we’re competing against each other on what should be a national crisis where we should be coming together and the federal government should be leading, helping us.”

On Friday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told the Detroit Free Press: “I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits.”

Six days after the State Department’s announcement, with the Trump administration still downplaying the threat to the United States, the CDC confirmed the 15th American COVID-19 case.

That patient was “among a group of people under a federal quarantine order at JBSA-Lackland in Texas because of their recent return to the U.S. on a State Department-chartered flight that arrived on February 7, 2020.”

So not only did the State Department send 17.8 tons of PPE to China on that trip, it brought back COVID-19 as a souvenir.

Here is the full news release from Secretary Pompeo, dated February 7:

“This week the State Department has facilitated the transportation of nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.  These donations are a testament to the generosity of the American people.

Today, the United States government is announcing it is prepared to spend up to $100 million in existing funds to assist China and other impacted countries, both directly and through multilateral organizations, to contain and combat the novel coronavirus.  This commitment – along with the hundreds of millions generously donated by the American private sector – demonstrates strong U.S. leadership in response to the outbreak.

This assistance only adds to what the United States has done to strengthen health security programs around the world.  For the last 20 years, the United States through USAID has invested over one billion dollars to strengthen the capacity of more than 25 countries to prevent, detect, and respond to existing and emerging infectious disease threats.  Since 2015, under our commitment to the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), this support has helped improve surveillance and laboratory systems, risk communication, outbreak response, and address the rising threat of anti-microbial resistance.

The United States is and will remain the world’s most generous donor. We encourage the rest of the world to match our commitment.  Working together, we can have a profound impact to contain this growing threat.”

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