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Governor: Oregon Companies Want To Make Protective Gear But Are Stymied By Federal Regulations

<p>Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issues a shut down of restaurants at a press conference in Portland, Oregon, on March 16, 2020.</p>

Kaylee Domzalski

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issues a shut down of restaurants at a press conference in Portland, Oregon, on March 16, 2020.

Gov. Kate Brown says Oregon companies – from Nike to Intel to small manufacturers – want to help boost the state’s dwindling supply of protective gear but are being hampered by federal regulations.

The lack of masks, gowns and goggles is endangering health care workers across the nation as they try to combat COVID-19. Last week, public health officials in Oregon warned they only had a two-week supply of protective gear left.

On a call with reporters Wednesday, Brown said companies are reaching out to state officials asking for guidance to re-purpose their facilities and staff to manufacture protective gear and ventilators.

The governor said Oregon companies have the ability and expertise to scale up the manufacturing of the life-saving protective gear immediately. Local companies have the equipment, the expertise and workforce, the governor said. But companies are facing federal red tape in trying to move the protective gear and ventilators to product, she said. 

“So the question is what’s the barrier?” Brown said in a call. “From our perspective … It’s frankly from what we’re seeing it’s the federal government. They could easily provide clear guidance (and) ...  fast track the approval processes for manufacturing respiratory masks and surgical gowns.”

READ: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issues letter on federal restrictions

States are also competing with the federal government. Brown said she heard from other governors who were preparing to purchase additional masks, but the protective gear was bought out from underneath them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA.

“The harsh reality is the feds have told us to go on the open market, but every state in the U.S. is competing to get these scarce products,” Brown said.

Right now, the life-saving protective gear is being directed to states where the virus has run rampant, such as California, New York and Washington state, the governor said.

“The resources we have received from the strategic national stockpile are appreciated,” Brown wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday. “However, they are simply not enough, and we expect to run out of these critical resources in the very near future.”

Brown called on the Federal Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help local companies start manufacturing their own protective gear and ventilators by offering guidelines such as manufacturing standards and specifications.

“We cannot sit idly by when there is a global shortage," Brown wrote the vice president. "We have companies ready, willing and able to help ensure that this does not turn into a preventable crisis for our health care workers." 

Gov. Brown has also asked federal Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to open for Oregonians a special enrollment period for the federal health insurance marketplace.

The open enrollment deadline passed on Dec. 15 and does not reopen until November.

“Many Oregonians are uninsured or underinsured and now find their families’ budgets significantly tightened due to this national emergency,” Brown said in a letter.

“In order to remove any potential barriers that remain, it is critical for all Oregonians to have access to a special enrollment period.”


Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lauren Dake is a political reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.