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Like The 'Wild West': The Fight For Tools To Stop Coronavirus

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The United States now has more deaths from COVID-19 than any other country - well over 20,000. And there's fierce competition between state and local governments, private companies and the federal government for medical supplies needed to treat the sick. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker says it's like the Wild West. New York's Andrew Cuomo likened it to bidding wars on eBay. Among the most crucial medical supplies are ventilators. President Trump has insisted all along the feds have done their duty.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The people that you're looking at - FEMA, the military - what they've done is a miracle. What they've done is a miracle in getting all of this stuff. What they've done for states is incredible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was April 6, two weeks after Cuomo blasted FEMA for shipping New York 400 ventilators.

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ANDREW CUOMO: What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000? You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's been lots of talk of cooperation from the private sector on products like masks and gloves and ventilators.

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TRUMP: We have 11 companies - approximately 11 companies building them, and we're going to have a stockpile for future. Hopefully we never have to use them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But whose stockpile?

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JARED KUSHNER: The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner.

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KUSHNER: So we're encouraging the states to make sure that they're assessing the needs, they're getting the data from their local situations and then trying to fill it with the supplies that we've given them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Trump administration has encouraged states to acquire medical supplies, like personal protective equipment and testing kits, through the private market. On a call with governors last month, Montana's Steve Bullock told Dr. Anthony Fauci and Trump that his state tried and found the orders got canceled. CBS News obtained a recording of that conference call.

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STEVE BULLOCK: We have gone time and time again to the private side of this - the private market. And where the private market is telling us is that it's the national resource that are then taking our orders apart. Basically, we're getting our orders cancelled. That's for PPE. That's for testing supplies. That's for testing equipment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Montana says they were outbid by the feds. Reuters reports Arkansas lost out on 500 ventilators because another state offered double the price. And this past week, the president was already envisioning a new use for machines from the federal stockpile.

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TRUMP: If we have extras, other countries need them. I mean, you see U.K. needs them badly. France needs them badly. Italy needs them badly. They need them. So it's complicated. It's a big piece of equipment. It's expensive. And we'll be able to help other countries after we take care of our needs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.