Leftover PPE From Pandemic: 'What a Real Waste'

States are now dumping millions of masks, gowns, gloves, other protective gear due to excess supply
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 21, 2023 9:35 AM CST
Leftover PPE From Pandemic: 'What a Real Waste'
Health care workers line up for free PPE at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Sept. 22, 2020.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in an unprepared US, states scrambled for masks and other protective gear. Three years later, as the grips of the pandemic have loosened, many states are now trying to deal with an excess of that gear, ditching their supplies in droves. With expiration dates passing and few requests to tap into its stockpile, Ohio, for instance, auctioned off 393,000 gowns for just $2,451 and ended up throwing away another 7.2 million, along with expired masks, gloves, and other materials. The now expiring supplies had cost about $29 million in federal money. A similar reckoning is happening around the country, per the AP. Items are aging, and as a deadline to allocate federal COVID-19 cash approaches next year, states must decide how much to invest in maintaining warehouses and supply stockpiles.

An AP investigation found that at least 15 states, from Alaska to Vermont, have tossed some of their trove of PPE (personal protective equipment) because of expiration, surpluses, and a lack of willing takers. Into the trash went more than 18 million masks, 22 million gowns, 500,000 gloves, and more. That's not counting states that didn't give the AP exact figures or other relevant info. Rhode Island said it got rid of 829 tons of PPE; Maryland disposed of over $93 million in supplies. "What a real waste. That's what happens when you don't prepare, when you have a bust-and-boom public health system," where a lack of planning leads to panicked overpurchasing in emergencies, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "It shows that we really have to do a better job of managing our stockpiles."

The AP sent inquiries about PPE stockpiles to all 50 states over the past several months; about half responded. States emphasize they distributed far more gear than they discarded and have gone to great lengths to donate the leftovers. Washington state sent hundreds of thousands of supplies to the Marshall Islands last year, yet ended up throwing out millions more items after they expired. Many states are keeping at least a portion, and sometimes all, of their remaining protective gear. Some even plan to update their stockpiles. But others say the vagaries of the pandemic and the PPE supply left no choice but to acquire the items, and now to throw them out, however reluctantly. Expiration dates are set because materials can degrade and might not work as intended. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set the fair market value of expired supplies at zero dollars.

story continues below

When the virus struck, demand skyrocketed for N95 masks, gloves, and gowns. The US government's Strategic National Stockpile was underequipped, and states plunged into global bidding wars. The AP found in 2020 that states spent over $7 billion in a few months on PPE, ventilators, and other high-demand medical devices in a seller's market. Ultimately, the federal government paid for many of the supplies. "There was no way to know, at the time of purchase, how long the supply deficit would last or what quantities would be needed," Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Ken Gordon said. Given the glut, stockpiled items are selling for bargain prices, if at all. Vermont, for instance, got $82.50 for 105,000 boot covers and 29 cents apiece for thousands of safety goggles. Much more here.

(More PPE stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.