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Feds Take All Of County’s 35,000 Mask Order Targeted For Health Care Workers

Somerset County Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson said that a shipment of 35,000 N-95 respirator and surgical masks destined for the county was “commandeered” by the federal government. She also said that RVCC is the top choice for a Somerset-Hunterdon county test site. (File photo.)

Somerset County’s entire 35,000-mask order of N-95 and surgical masks targeted for various health care workers has been “commandeered” by the federal government, the Somerset County Freeholder Director said on April 3.

Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson also said that a joint Somerset-Hunterdon county drive-through testing site could be operational soon and that Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg is “at the top of the list” of locations.

Robinson said that the county had contracted to purchase 35,000 N-95 respirator masks – used by health care professionals to protect them from being contaminated by the virus if treating victims – and regular surgical face masks.

The masks were to be distributed to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital – Somerset in Somerville and various municipalities’ first responders, as well as staff at the Somerset County Jail in Somerville, Robinson said.

As of early in the afternoon of April 3, Robinson said that the county was told the surgical face masks would be delivered that day, but that the federal government had taken the N-95 masks.

Later in the day, Robinson said, she was told that the government had taken the entire 35,000-mask order.

“The vendor called the county OEM purchaser,” she said.

Robinson said the vendor did not say which federal agency confiscated the order.

Robinson said some of the surgical masks were to be held in reserve to be used at the eventual joint Somerset-Hunterdon test site.

Robinson said Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration “has gotten involved” and is trying to find out why the masks were taken.

“This doesn’t even make sense,” Robinson said. “Part of the thing is, I know the government is monitoring large orders of equipment, but they had no idea where that was going.”

“It was advantageous for us to buy in bulk and distribute it,” she said. “We’re all going to the same source to get it. We figured we’ll just share the wealth.”

“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “Disappointing and unacceptable.”

Robinson said that the county had been warned that the government may take the order.

“They’re on a watch for anybody ordering en masse,” she said.

“It’s not like we put in orders every week,” Robinson said. “We’ve been waiting on that order for two-and-a-half, three weeks.”

“You don’t just take them,” she said. “You have a conversation.”

She said that the region’s Congressional delegation, as well as state Legislative representatives, are pressing to get the order returned.

Robinson said the County had not yet been invoiced for the masks. She said the cost, which was not readily available, would have been paid from the County’s “rainy day fund.”

“There is a rainy day fund, however I’m sure no one thought we were going to have a monsoon,” she said. “In the end, we have to do what we have to do.”

Robinson said Raritan Valley Community College is “at the top of the list” of sites to locate a drive-through testing operation run by Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

“It’s centrally located,” she said.

She said that Colonial Park was also on the list.

Robinson said one of the requirements was for a large, open site. “You don’t want to impede traffic,” she said.

Both Somerset and Hunterdon counties have masks on hand, Robinson said. The remaining stumbling block to opening the site is with buying test kits.

Robinson said she was not certain as to how many test kits the county is looking to buy.

“As many as we can get our hands on,” she said. “Everybody’s looking for these kits.”

She said the decision to partner with Hunterdon, as opposed to setting up a Somerset County only site, was made due to the relative number of patients in both counties.

“If you look at the numbers in our counties in comparison to throughout the state, we’re not hot spots,” she said. “As much as there’s a demand for a testing site in our community, in comparison to the rest of the state, our numbers aren’t there. Then you want to make sure that you have all the inventory and equipment that you need.”

Robinson said her “hope” was to have the testing site operational “within the week.”

“I don’t know how realistic that is,” she said. “Everything is not set in stone.”


This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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