Illinois Says Federal Government Shipped Them 300,000 of the Wrong Kind of Protective Masks

Gov. J. B. Pritzker says he asked the White House for 300,000 N95 masks, but Illinois received surgical masks instead

J.B. Pritzker
Gov. JB Pritzker. Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty

Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker thanked the federal government on Monday for sending additional healthcare equipment as the state manages the coronavirus outbreak, but said the shipment only included a “fraction” of what the state requested and noted that 300,000 of the N95 masks he asked for were actually surgical masks.

“My team is sorting through the shipment of 300,000 N95 masks the White House personally told me would be sent to our state,” Pritzker, 55, said at a news conference. “While we do not have a final count on this yet, I can say with certainty that what they sent were not the N95 masks that were promised, but instead were surgical masks which is not what we asked for.”

Healthcare workers use N95 masks to protect themselves from contracting the coronavirus from patients who have tested positive. Infectious disease experts told NPR surgical masks still allow small airborne particles to get through, while U.S. testing has shown that “N95 respirators were associated with less filter penetration, less face-seal leakage and less total inward leakage under laboratory experimental conditions, compared with surgical masks.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed the mistake to PEOPLE on Tuesday night, adding that FEMA regional administrator James Joseph spoke with Gov. Pritzker about the error on Monday.

“The 300,000 surgical masks were part of a donation that had been incorrectly identified as N95 respirators,” a FEMA spokesperson told PEOPLE. “To-date, FEMA has shipped more than 540,000 N95 respirators to the state, and will continue to work with our federal government partners to meet the demands for personal protective equipment in Illinois and across the country.”

There have been more than 173,741 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., according to a New York Times tracker following the latest available data, as of Tuesday afternoon. There have also been a reported 3,433 deaths in the U.S. related to the virus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness, the Times reported.

In Illinois alone, there have been 5,070 cases and 84 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Times.

Severe cases of the virus have caused pneumonia and shortness of breath, which has led to states scrambling for ventilators to help patients breathe and personal protective equipment to help prevent doctors and nurses from getting the virus themselves.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much we need the federal government to step up and amplify the size of their PPE deliveries to Illinois, and frankly, across the nation,” Pritzker said.

The White House did not have comment regarding the error.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump during his coronavirus briefing from the White House Rose Garden on Monday. MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Last week Trump questioned whether states and hospitals around the country need the amount of equipment they’re requesting.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last Thursday, referencing a request from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for additional ventilators.

“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump said. “You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’ ”

But as medical officials on Trump’s own coronavirus task force gave a grim warning early this week that the eventual U.S. death toll could reach 200,000, the president began walking back his hope to have the country reopen by April 16 — extending the U.S. social distancing recommendations to the end of April.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. expert on infectious diseases, told CNN he made it clear to Trump that America’s quarantine will need to last weeks, maybe months, longer.

“We showed him the data. He looked at the data. He got it right away. It was a pretty clear picture,” Fauci said. “Dr. Debbie Birx and I went into the Oval Office and leaned over the desk and said, ‘Here are the data, take a look.’ He just shook his head and said, ‘I guess we got to do it.’”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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