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N.J. State Police Authorized To Collect Masks, Ventilators From Private Firms

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

New Jersey is one of the states - part of the country that has really been hardest hit by the coronavirus. As of midday yesterday, 537 people had died. There are more than 22,000 cases of the virus there. And the governor, Phil Murphy, has authorized the state police to collect masks, ventilators and other equipment from private companies and to do it by force, if necessary. Here is Dr. Deborah Birx. She's a member of the White House coronavirus task force. This is her speaking in a press conference yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DEBORAH BIRX: We do have two states that do have 35% positives, and that's New York and New Jersey. So that confirms very clearly that that's a very clear and important hot zone.

MARTIN: Governor Murphy is with us now on the line from New Jersey. Governor, thank you very much for taking the time.

PHIL MURPHY: Honored to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So let me ask about that request, that authorization. You've asked your state police superintendent to collect equipment from private companies that could help treat COVID-19 patients. Those companies are now required to submit details about the supplies that they've got on hand - how many masks, how many ventilators. They have to submit that to the state. How have the companies responded to this?

MURPHY: The good news is, Rachel, most companies have overwhelmingly - just like most of our citizens, have overwhelmingly responded the right way, and we are getting a lot of the stuff of folks' free will, as it should be. But we can't take any chances. We've gotten some out of the federal stockpile in terms of ventilators and personal protective equipment, but not nearly as much as we need. And we can't afford not to turn over every stone, and this is another example of doing just that.

MARTIN: What did you make of Jared Kushner's comments yesterday about the federal stockpile and whether or not it was appropriate for states to access it?

MURPHY: I didn't see him actually give his comments. I read them afterward. We've gotten 850 ventilators from the stockpile. We have an ask for another 1,650. We've gotten the first bunch in three tranches, and we're just going to need to keep getting them. We don't have any other, right now, reliable sources. So we'll continue to try to find other sources, and we scour the globe for that, but we need the feds to step up and continue to step up.

MARTIN: Vice President Pence said this week FEMA was delivering 300 ventilators to your state. Is that accurate?

MURPHY: FEMA actually delivered two tranches this week - 300 and then another 350. Again, we had an ask of initially 2,500. We still have 1,650 that we need. And those have come in, and that's good news, and we're grateful for that. But we're using them as fast as we're getting them and, unfortunately, got word overnight that not all of them are in functioning condition. I don't have any more color on that. But, anecdotally, at least 15 of them were not at the level they needed to be. So we're going to continue to need to rely on the federal stockpile.

MARTIN: And what about the test kits?

MURPHY: Same. I mean, we - listen - test kits - in a perfect world, we'd love to have universal testing. We don't have enough material from the feds, so we have had to test symptomatic only, and we're one of the most aggressive states in America doing that. But we're light on ventilators, personal protective equipment, beds and health care manpower.

We've put a call out, a call to arms. I'm gratified to say we've gotten over 7,000 people who've volunteered to come in from other states, from part of New Jersey, retirees, which is gratifying 'cause we're going to need their help to back up the heroic health care workers right now.

MARTIN: So I've heard you say at least a couple of times now that what the federal government is providing, it's better than nothing, but it's still not enough. What is your assessment of how, at the federal level, this has been handled?

MURPHY: Well, it's handled fine in terms of the back-and-forth and the communication with the White House and with the respective agencies HHS and FEMA. It certainly does, however, feel like and - we're going to have to do a massive national postmortem on this - it feels like we entered this war, and it is a war, with less ammunition than we needed, a lot less. And so that's going to be a challenge. In other words, we're grateful for what we've got, but we need a lot more, and that continues to be the case.

MARTIN: Governor Phil Murphy, the Democratic governor from the state of New Jersey. Sir, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us this morning. We appreciate it.

MURPHY: Honored to be with you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.