AP Photo/John Locher Virus Outbreak Nevada
AP Photo/John Locher

“It is abundantly clear that the shortage of essential items … needed by health and safety personnel has reached crisis proportions in cities across the country.”

About 90% of American mayors surveyed say they lack sufficient coronavirus test kits, face masks, and other protective equipment for medical workers and emergency first responders, according to a new survey published Friday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Eighty-five percent say they do not have enough ventilators for their hospitals, 

The shortage of critical supplies could cause cities and towns to be overwhelmed and endanger doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers, and patients themselves as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

“It is abundantly clear that the shortage of essential items such as face masks, test kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators and other items needed by health and safety personnel has reached crisis proportions in cities across the country,” the report reads. “The result is that the safety of city residents and the health workers and first responders protecting them is being seriously compromised.”

The survey was conducted from March 20 to March 24 and includes responses from 213 U.S. cities across 41 states and Puerto Rico. The population of the cities surveyed totaled 42 million people. 

Analyses of survey responses reveal the following about cities’ needs:

  • 91.5% of cities do not have an adequate supply of face masks for their first responders (including police, fire, and EMTs) and medical personnel.
  • 88.2% do not have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) other than face masks to protect these workers.
  • 92.1% do not have an adequate supply of COVID-19 test kits.
  • 85% do not have an adequate supply of ventilators for use by health facilities in their city or area.

“Despite their best efforts, most cities do not have and cannot obtain adequate equipment and supplies needed to protect their residents,” the report says. “This is a life-threatening crisis that will continue unless the federal government does everything in its power to help us safeguard our first responders and health care workers — our first line of defense — and the millions of other public servants in our cities whose work today puts them at risk.”

The survey found minimal variation between large and small cities, with municipalities of all sizes reporting shortages of supplies. All together, the cities surveyed said they needed:

  • 5 million face masks
  • 4 million PPE items
  • 9 million test kits
  • 139,000 ventilators

Thus far, President Trump and the federal government have been slow to respond and provide supplies to states and cities. Instead, Trump has urged states to fend for themselves and questioned their need for supplies, which has drawn criticism from leaders, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

Trump has predictably reacted poorly to the criticism, saying Cuomo’s request for 30,000 extra ventilators was unnecessary, despite the fact that New York has become the nation’s biggest coronavirus hotspot, with over 44,000 confirmed cases.

“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Thursday. “You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

Trump also turned his ire on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday, telling Hannity that “all she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn’t get it done and we send her a lot.” He added: “Now she wants a declaration of emergency and, uh, you know, we’ll have to make a decision on that.”

Whitmer quickly clapped back on Twitter, reminding Trump that he has ignored her pleas for help.

“I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits,” Whitmer said. “You said you stand with Michigan — prove it.”

Trump’s failure to help states has had a serious impact on cities. Nearly two-thirds of mayors (62%) said they have not received emergency equipment or supplies from their state leaders, and of those who did, 85% of them said it is not adequate to meet their needs.

Nan Whaley, mayor of Dayton, Ohio, described the supply shortage and its impact on the healthcare system as “alarming.” Dayton and its surrounding county only have 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far, but local hospitals have had to cancel all elective surgeries in order to save medical supplies. The Washington Post reports that those cancellations have caused significant financial losses and led to the furlough of 40% of staff and 30% pay cuts for hospital administrators. 

“Our health care system just doesn’t make any sense,” Whaley, who is one of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’s vice presidents, told the Post. “How is it that we are so unprepared that we’re asking women to find fabric in their houses to make face masks?”