By John Haughey
The Center Square
April 17, 2020
(The Center Square, April 15, 2020)) – After weeks of scrums and elbow-banging in battles with other countries, states and corporations in the global “secondary market” for medical supplies, Florida is bringing home some goods.
As in 1.2 million masks, 100,000 face shields, 500,000 gloves, 60,000 containers of hand sanitizer and 35,000 gowns, all to be distributed to hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care centers in the next 36 hours.
Once doled out, the state’s Division of Emergency Management will have distributed 8 million masks, 5.5 million gloves, 564,000 shoe covers, 615,000 face shields, 300,000 gowns, 100,000 containers of hand sanitizer, 47,000 goggles and 22,000 coveralls in the past month.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said Tuesday the state has spent about $500 million on protective equipment since early March in a “secondary market”
DeSantis said included in the haul are 800,000 coveted N95 masks President Donald Trump helped the state secure from 3M. The masks will be dispatched immediately “to our frontline hospitals and health care workers.”
DeSantis thanked 3M CEO Mike Roman for pledging to make more masks available for U.S. states and the federal government as a priority before selling them to international buyers on the secondary market.
“When this all started, we had had millions of these masks ordered,” DeSantis said. “We’d be told they’d be delivered on Friday, then we’d go and they’d disappear. ‘Oh, next Wednesday.’ You’d go and they’d disappear.
“It’s been a real, real problem how the secondary markets work,” he continued, “but I’m glad that we’re able to work this out.”
The governor opened his daily COVID-19 briefing Tuesday by reporting “good news” that Floridians would start seeing federal unemployment payments in their mailboxes Tuesday.
The $600-a-week allotment approved by Congress as part of a $2.2 trillion relief package will be distributed in “hard checks,” DeSantis said.
State unemployment payments, capped at $275 weekly, will be distributed in direct deposits and debit cards, he said.
While gig workers employed as independent contractors and many who are self-employed don’t typically qualify for unemployment insurance in Florida, DeSantis said they are eligible for federal assistance.
To request the federal compensation, however, applicants must file through their state’s unemployment agency, which is among the frustrations Floridians are dealing with because many don’t qualify under state regulations.
“Why they did it through the state unemployment system, I’ll never understand,” DeSantis said.
The federal requirements are “more liberal” than the states, although, the governor said, “most people in Florida are going to get both.”
DeSantis said the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which manages the state’s unemployment program, has been boosted by more than 2,000 state workers from other agencies after it was overwhelmed by nearly 500,000 applicants in three weeks compared with 326,000 in all of 2019.
Things are getting better, he said, noting, “We now have over 1,000 people answering the phones” but the system is “still crushed” with applicants.
On average, he said, it is taking three weeks to process applications and get money to the newly jobless.
“We got to do better than that,” DeSantis said.