Feds seize coronavirus test kit materials bound for Northwest

Hospital and clinic officials in seven states reportedly described similar seizures in the past week.

By David Rasbach / The Bellingham Herald

A delivery of test kit materials that would have allowed Bellingham’s St. Joseph hospital and other PeaceHealth medical facilities in the Northwest to run COVID-19 tests quicker were seized and diverted by the federal government to the East Coast, PeaceHealth reports.

The Los Angeles Times first reported about the federal government quietly seizing orders for medical supplies made by hospitals in a story Tuesday, April 7. Those seizures came despite President Trump directing states and hospitals to secure what supplies they could to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Times reported that PeaceHealth, which has 10 hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, was among those impacted.

“”It’s incredibly frustrating,” PeaceHealth Chief Operating Officer Richard DeCarlo told the Times. “We had put wheels in motion with testing and protective equipment to allow us to secure and protect our staff and our patients.”

The materials seized from PeaceHealth include vital test kit materials that are needed to run in-house analyzer machines, PeaceHealth Manager of Public Affairs Jeremy Rush told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

Those machines were purchased specifically for COVID-19 testing in PeaceHealth hospitals, Rush reported.

“Our analyzers remain idle, while we continue to send specimens to outside laboratory testing sites, prioritizing labs based on the shortest turnaround times,” Rush wrote.

In Northwest Washington, including St. Joseph hospital, that’s Northwest Labs in Bellingham, Rush reported.

If PeaceHealth hospitals had received the test kit materials and been able to do in-house testing, Rush wrote, and then it more quickly could rule out patients that tested negative for COVID-19. That, in turn, would have allowed the hospital to conserve personal protective equipment at a greater rate.

That being said, Rush stressed that “because of our ongoing planning and preparedness efforts, we continue to be stocked with PPE to meet current demand.”

When the test kit materials were redirected, PeaceHealth simply received information from its supplier that the items were not going to be delivered and told “they had been diverted to the East Coast based on direction from the federal government,” Rush reported.

According to the Los Angeles Times story, hospital and clinic officials in seven states described similar seizures in the past week, though the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not publicly announced the seizures.

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