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The U.S. departments of Justice and Health and Human Services discovered roughly 192,000 N95 respirator masks for health workers fighting coronavirus.
FBI agents found the masks and other hoarded personal protective equipment from various price gougers during an enforcement operation by DOJ’s COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, department officials said in a joint statement Thursday.
The department then alerted the HHS, which, under its authority with the Defense Production Act, ordered that the supplies be immediately furnished to the United States.
“Cracking down on the hoarding of vital supplies allows us to distribute this material to the heroic health care workers on the frontlines who are most in need,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the statement. “Thanks to the quick work of the White House, the Department of Justice, and HHS, the seized resources were distributed in days to the doctors, nurses and first responders who need them." The president's approach to "combating the coronavirus involves an aggressive approach to stopping hoarding, and the American public can play a role by being on the lookout for this behavior.”
Trump in March invoked the defense act to partner with private sector firms to ramp up the production of critical medical supplies. The order is also intended to prevent the accumulation of goods for resale above reasonable market value.
And N95s are in high demand among both workers deemed "essential" and worried U.S. residents, as more health officials recommend wearing them to prevent virus spread.
The DOJ and HHS also recovered 598,000 medical-grade gloves and hundreds of surgical masks and gowns, disinfectant towels, particulate filters and bottles of hand sanitizer.
The HHS said in the release it will pay the owner of the supplies pre-COVID-19 fair market value and that it has already started distributing them to hard-hit places like New York.
Of the 227,000 nationwide COVID-19 cases, roughly 83,700 are in the Empire State and hospitals are feeling the punch. New York-Presbyterian Hospital is burning through 40,000 N95 masks per day, according to one report, and that number could hit 70,000 soon.
The items will be sent to the New York State Department of Health, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New Jersey Department of Health.
“If you are amassing critical medical equipment for the purpose of selling it at exorbitant prices, you can expect a knock at your door,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “The Department of Justice's COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force is working tirelessly around the clock with all our law enforcement partners to ensure that bad actors cannot illicitly profit from the COVID-19 pandemic facing our nation.”