COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — More than half the $98 million Ohio spent on personal protective equipment in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic went to buy hospital gowns, including 3 million from China.
Ohio spent $55 million on gowns, its most expensive category of such equipment, an Associated Press tally found.
That included the purchase of 3 million gowns from an Ohio-based marketing and printing company, Three Leaf Productions, that got them from Chinese manufacturer Xiantao Chenguang Protection.
Records show the $15 million bill included $3.5 million for shipping; many states chartered flights to get personal protective equipment from China and other countries. Messages seeking comment were left with Three Leaf and Xiantao Chenguang.
The AP tallied more than $7 billion in coronavirus purchases by states this spring for personal protective equipment and high-demand medical devices such as ventilators and infrared thermometers. The data covers the period from the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S. in early 2020 to the start of summer.
The AP’s data, obtained through public records requests, is the most comprehensive accounting to date of how much states were buying, what they were spending, and the vendors they were paying during a chaotic spring when inadequate national stockpiles left state governments scrambling for hard-to-get supplies.
States competed against one another, hospitals, the federal government and even other countries. In many cases, they suspended normal competitive bidding requirements.
The data shows a sharp increase in prices of protective equipment as the virus began spreading. Before the pandemic, an N95 mask that filters out tiny particles might have cost around 50 cents. This spring, states paid an average of $3 for each N95, according to the AP’s analysis, and some paid more than $10 per mask to get them quickly.
The AP’s data also shows that millions of dollars flowed from states to businesses that had never before sold personal protective equipment.
Ohio, for example, made two gown purchases totaling $6 million from La La Land Production & Design, a Los Angeles-based manufacturer. In normal times, it specializes in high-end fashion products, including designer shoes, handbags, wallets and belts.
“We — along with many U.S. manufacturers — quickly pivoted to PPE when we realized that the need to save lives and livelihoods was great,” company spokesperson Maryam Zar said. “Manufacturing has largely left the U.S., but those of who have insisted on staying and carving out a niche have become a crucial part of the response to this pandemic, and likely part of the recovery.”
After gowns, Ohio spent $16 million on ventilators and accessories, $12 million on masks, $8 million on respirators, $5.5 million on gloves and $625,000 on face shields. The rest of the spending went to thermometers, sanitizer, wipes, shoe covers and coveralls.
In one case, the state spent over $100,000 to buy several dozen “gas masks” from Grainger, at a cost of more than $680 each.
Lindsey Bohrer, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Public Safety's Emergency Management Agency, said the items were actually reusable and enhanced N95 masks, which could be refitted with the $70 filters the state purchased alongside them.
“Because of limited stock/quantity across the country, Ohio EMA secured any type of mask possible for first responders during the onset of the activation,” Bohrer said in an email.
She said the masks were delivered to the state stockpile maintained by the health department.