Louisiana plans to keep two warehouses full of personal protective equipment in case the state ever runs short on surgical masks, gloves and gowns again. The government will retain the materials, even if the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
“There is an understanding that we will keep a certain amount in stock,” said Casey Tingle, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “Most of it is shelf stable.”
Like much of the rest of the country, Louisiana was scrambling to order as much personal protective equipment as possible in the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak last year. Last spring, the state was responsible for supplying everyone — including hospitals and nursing homes — with those materials.
“We zero out the warehouse every day,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in late March of 2020, according to the Associated Press. “To say that demand is outpacing supply would be a gross understatement.”
In the early months of the pandemic, the state spent $87 million on face coverings alone. Louisiana bought supplies from vendors as far away as China — and often paid more on average than other states, according to the Associated Press.
Now, demand for those products has slowed way down. Hospitals and other medical facilities are able to order their own personal protective equipment, though the state is still fielding requests for some products from local governments, Tingle said.
The personal protective equipment stored in the warehouses was mostly ordered late last summer and fall, when the pandemic in Louisiana had reached a lull. The warehouses — leased by the state government — are located on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge and in Roseland, Tingle said.
Tingle said the state is not holding onto N95 face masks, which hospitals and other medical providers still need as the pandemic continues. Most of the masks in state storage are surgical and face shields, which offer less protection.
The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security is also asking the Louisiana Legislature to pay for an additional staff member who can focus solely on distributing supplies in the future. After Louisiana experienced the pandemic and multiple hurricanes in 2020, Tingle said the agency wants one person who can focus on the distribution of personal protective equipment but also tarps, food and water across the state during crises.