Fla. county says 1M N95 masks seized by federal government

Miami-Dade's emergency director said a shipment of masks meant for first responders and other front-line workers was "hijacked" on its way to the county


Douglas Hanks
Miami Herald

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. — Miami-Dade’s emergency arm was close to taking possession of 1 million N95 masks last week, but the shipment was “taken” by the federal government, WLRN reported.

Frank Rollason, Miami-Dade’s emergency director, described the shipment as “hijacked” by federal authorities during a desperate dash to secure medical-grade masks needed to protect first responders and front-line workers from the spread of COVID-19.

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“We were going to meet the plane and actually take them. That’s like gold, you know. But we got the word from the company that they had been taken from the federal government,” Frank Rollason, the director of Emergency Management for the county, told WLRN.

“I say it was hijacked, because that’s what happened,” he said.

Rollason and the press office for Miami-Dade’s Emergency Management office were not immediately available for comment.

In a statement Thursday morning, a FEMA spokesperson did not address the Miami-Dade shipment. The agency is not intervening with legitimate suppliers, but the statement said Washington was stepping in to seize material from distributors it deems are acting against the law.

“FEMA is not seizing or taking personal protective equipment from state or local governments, hospitals, or any entities who are lawfully engaged in transactions through which these resources are distributed,” the spokesperson said. “However, there are bad actors out there who are hoarding and price gouging. The Department of Justice has assembled a task force that has seized PPE from individual bad actors and businesses hoarding PPE.”

The hunt for N95 masks has been a top challenge for Miami-Dade as it races to buy enough supplies to fight COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The county’s transit union is suing to try and force Miami-Dade to provide bus drivers the same kind of N95 masks issued to county police and firefighters.

At a press conference last week, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said his administration regularly asks Florida for more masks.

“We can only give the transport workers what we have,” he said. “We’re constantly asking the state to give us more. But a lot of those masks are being prioritized for our first-responders, our fighters, our police officers and hospital personnel that are dealing with these patients.”

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©2020 Miami Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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