Noem to Trump: ‘I just don’t want to not be a priority area because we’re a smaller state or less populated’

KELOLAND.com Original

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — In a plea to President Donald Trump and members of the White House coronavirus task force, Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) on a teleconference with other governors, expressed concerns about the testing supply chain and to not forget South Dakota.

“I just don’t want to not be a priority area because we’re a smaller state or less populated,” Noem said on Thursday’s call.

“That will never happen to you and it will never happen to your state,” President Donald Trump said from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Headquarters.

President Donald Trump speaks during a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kristi Noem, left, in Sioux Falls, S.D., Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

On the call, many governors from both parties expressed concerns about testing, including Noem, who has been a strong supporter of the President.

“I want to tell you a little bit of my story, and I need to understand how you’re triaging supplies,” Noem said. “We, for two weeks, were requesting reagents for our public health lab from CDC, who pushed us to private suppliers who kept canceling orders on us.”

FILE – In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York’s Long Island. Wide scale testing is a critical part of tracking and containing infectious diseases. But the U.S. effort has been plagued by a series of missteps, including accuracy problems with the test kits the CDC sent to other labs and bureaucratic hurdles that slowed the entrance of large, private sector labs. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Reagents are the chemical compound that allows the State’s health lab to pull the genetic material from the testing swabs to find out if the patient has COVID-19.

On Monday, the lab stopped checking specimens after supplies ran out and more couldn’t be obtained, Capitol News Bureau Correspondent Bob Mercer reported this week.

Data from the Department of Health showed a massive backlog of cases build after they ran out of reagents.

Noem addressed the issue in Rapid City earlier this week.

“We are working on several different suppliers to get that into the state health lab, hopefully within hours,” Noem said on Wednesday. “Get tested, they will get the sample sent into Pierre and we will be processing and running those tests 24/7 as soon as we get re-supplied with the reagents that we need.”

Behind the scenes, it was a much more confusing story. In her Thursday call with the President, Noem said the state kept making requests and placing orders with both the CDC and commercial manufacturers.

“The morning we would expect the supply, all of a sudden, we get a cancellation notice.  And we’re working through all the setup channels of the federal government to get it resolved, until we ran out and were unable to process any tests in the State of South Dakota because I have the only lab that is operating today,” Noem said.  “I have no commercial outside labs whatsoever.”

The problem Noem was facing is one that several governors from different parties, populations and geographical locations brought up with the Trump.

Just before Noem on the call, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said his state was also competing with the federal government for the much-needed supplies.

“We really need the supply that the federal government has access to, that we are competing with the federal government for,” Pritzker said.

The states, like Illinois and South Dakota, are asking for these supplies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They aren’t getting them shipped. The federal government is then telling the states to go to a private company and those companies keep canceling orders.

President Donald Trump, second from right, listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a teleconference with governors at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

Before his call with the governors, Trump said at a news briefing he was willing to “help out wherever we can,” but “governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work.”

“The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping,” Trump said on Thursday morning. “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”

At the same time, more than 1,200 miles away, South Dakota finally received the supplies from the CDC amid the mounting backlog of untested tests.

Noem said the state had “to get a little pushy” for the lab to receive the shipment of supplies. She said she even called other states to see if South Dakota could use supplies from them.

Noem: I’m probably the one that my other colleagues were referring to that was asking for reagents from all of them for days.
Trump: All right. We hear it. We got you, Kristi.

For now, the samples at the public lab are being prioritized by risk level — high, moderate or low, Mercer reported.

According to lab documents, that will be:

  1. Healthcare workers and first responders
  2. Individuals who are 65 years of age and older
  3. Individuals with underlying medical conditions

In a Thursday evening media briefing, South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said low-risk level tests would be going out-of-state. She also said there were currently no commercial labs in South Dakota approved for testing.

Apparently, however, at least one commercial lab in the state did receive the supplies the state needed. Noem expressed those concerns with Trump. She said a South Dakota hospital system received reagents.

“They haven’t even been an FDA-approved lab and aren’t even ready to start processing yet,” Noem said. “So they’ve received what I was trying to get for two weeks when they’re not even an approved lab, not even set up and running.”

Noem didn’t specify which health system it was. KELOLAND News reached out to Sanford Health, Avera Health and Monument Health. A spokesperson with Sanford said it wasn’t about them. We have yet to hear back from Avera and Monument.

While the state’s top health official said there weren’t any commercial labs, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Coordinator, said one company with commercial labs in South Dakota was approved for testing.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, talks during a television interview about the coronavirus at the White House, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“So there will be a lot of commercial hospitals in your state that will have access to these commercial laboratories outside of the CDC test,” Birx said.

During a Friday Coronavirus Task Force media briefing, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar put much of the blame for supply shortages on governors and labs for not checking on what types of alternative supplies they can use.

“Usually it’s that the lab people do not understand that there are alternative supplies in the marketplace that they are perfectly free to use,” Azar said.

President Donald Trump listens as Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Friday, March 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

FEMA is now the primary contact between the states and the federal government. Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday that would help sort out these supply issues.

“I’m trying to figure out how we’re,” Noem said, but was cut-off by Trump. She then continued, “triaging supplies that we need, especially when I’m the only lab that operates in the state and we were going through the channels the correct way and using and searching and asking.”

Azar told Noem on Thursday’s call that the hospital system probably bought the supplies on the open market – something they told Noem to do, but those companies kept canceling orders.

“We absolutely want to make sure you get what you need there,” Azar said. “There are many different reagents that can be used.  So after this call, we’ll get on with you to help make sure you’re getting what you need.”

KELOLAND News reached out to HHS to see if they actually reached out to the state. A spokesperson referred us to Noem’s office. An official tells KELOLAND News her office has been working with federal officials for weeks leading up to the call and have had several conversations since as well.

“There is tremendous supply,” Trump said to Noem.

Noem then attempted to ask two more questions, but was cut off.

Trump: Thank you, Kristi.  Thank you, very much.  Next governor, please.
Noem: I have — I got all these — yeah, thank you, Mr. President.
Trump: Thank you, Kristi. Next governor, please.
Noem: Can I just touch on two other things, Mr. President?
Trump: Go ahead.  Go ahead. I think we got cut off. Next governor, please.

What we don’t know is how or why the call ended. It’s also unclear if Noem and the other governors knew the call was going to be made public.

President Donald Trump attends a teleconference with governors at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

KELOLAND News reached out to her office to ask a few other questions and received a statement from Noem’s senior advisor & policy director.

Governor Noem is passionate about making sure South Dakotans are not forgotten by decision-makers in Washington.

Maggie Seidel

Trump was asked about the call and testing concerns at Friday’s media briefing on COVID-19.

“We don’t want everyone to go out and get a test because there’s no reason for it,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Trump declared “anybody who wants a test can get a test.” But his deputies later walked back that statement.


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