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As states compete for valuable medical resources like testing kits, face masks and ventilators, some are turning to their senators to help with supply shortages.

Behind the scenes, lawmakers are overwhelmed by the stories they are hearing back home, and stepping in to troubleshoot. Senators are relying on their closer relationships with the White House and federal officials to get states what they need. 

Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota, recounted that in her state, the public health department had been approved to receive more than 55,000 N95 masks, nearly 122,000 surgical masks, 23,145 face shields, more than 18,000 gowns and more than 67,000 gloves from the strategic stockpile. But when health officials opened up their shipment Friday, they saw just 657 pairs of gloves.

They called her office.

“That is kind of frightening when we are seeing the kind of upsurge in cases we are seeing,” Smith said in a phone interview with CNN Tuesday. “I worry that states are competing.” 

For the rest of the weekend, Smith and her staff were on the phone with Department of Health and Human Services, troubleshooting with the governor’s office and trying to understand what had gone wrong.

Just days later, after the weekend calls, Minnesota public health officials received another shipment that contained the items they had been approved for. But, Smith said public health officials in her state still warn it’s not likely to be enough for the long haul. She also said that her state still has not received a single ventilator from the stockpile. Other hot spots like New York, California and Washington continue to be top priorities as the government seeks to slow to spread of Covid-19 there.

Smith says she doesn’t blame career officials at HHS or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I feel like the career staff are trying their hardest. I don’t blame them,” she said. “It feels as if the administration’s response is haphazard… I cannot help but think that if they had started to prepare for this in early February…we would have been in a better spot…”

It’s not just places like Minnesota that state officials are asking senators with closer ties to the federal government to help. 

Senate Majority Whip John Thune speaks with reporters at the door to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 16.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune speaks with reporters at the door to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 16. Patrick Semansky/AP

In South Dakota, Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, stepped in to try and help his state. According to an aide familiar, Thune helped South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem lean on both the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week when the state needed more reagents required to complete the Covid-19 tests.



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