NJ state police given power to commandeer medical equipment, supplies for COVID-19 fight

Col. Patrick Callahan has the emergency authority to seize N95 masks, ventilators and other PPE for first responders and healthcare workers


Brent Johnson
NJ Advance Media

TRENTON — The head of New Jersey’s State Police now has the authority to commandeer much-needed medical supplies and equipment from private companies and institutions in the state that have not yet donated it to health-care facilities to combat the coronavirus, under an executive order Gov. Phil Murphy signed Thursday.

Last weekend, Murphy signed an order calling on businesses across New Jersey to report to the state the supplies and equipment they have on hand as cases of the virus continue to jump.

The New Jersey State Police now has the emergency power to commandeer medical equipment to help aid the response to COVID-19. (Photo/TNS)
The New Jersey State Police now has the emergency power to commandeer medical equipment to help aid the response to COVID-19. (Photo/TNS)

Murphy’s new order now gives Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the State Police and head of the state’s Office of Emergency Management, to seize that equipment, if necessary — including N95 masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment for health-care workers and first responders.

The order says Murphy has this power under the state’s Disaster Control Act.

It also says the state would repay companies in the future for what is taken.

“We all certainly hope Pat doesn’t have to use this authority,” Murphy said at the Trenton War Memorial during his daily coronavirus press briefing. “We would hope that folks will step forward and do the right thing. But if need be, we will use this authority."

Murphy has said the state is desperately seeking more supplies to fight the coronavirus outbreak. New Jersey now has at least 25,590 known cases of COVID-19, including at least 537 known deaths, officials said Wednesday. Only New York has more among U.S. states.

President Donald Trump’s administration has sent multiple shipments to the Garden State. But Murphy said the state needs more.

Ventilators are particularly in need as hospital capacity becomes an issue, state officials said. Trump’s administration has supplied the state with 650 ventilators, though officials say they need 1,650 more.

Officials said Wednesday a number of hospitals in the northern half of New Jersey were beginning to see a surge in patients.

That has caused multiple hospitals to reach “divert" status in recent days — meaning whole hospitals or units temporarily reached capacity and had to refer new patients to other facilities.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said there were four hospitals Wednesday night on “divert” status — down from seven the day before.

Persichilli has said she expects New Jersey to be able to handle the surge, but she stressed that obtaining more ventilators are critical.

Murphy has highlighted numerous companies, large and small, that have donated supplies to New Jersey in recent weeks. He said Wednesday the state has also purchased 10 million pieces of personal protective equipment and is preparing to distribute it to health-care workers.

On Thursday, the governor announced BlueCross BlueShield has donated 500,00 N95 marks and 81,000 face shields that will be delivered throughout April across the state.

Anyone looking to donate can visit: Covid19.nj.gov/ppedonations.

“We will gladly accept your donation, no matter how large or how small," Murphy said. “Every little bit counts.”

As multiple governors seek supplies from the federal government, Trump tweeted Thursday morning that some states and hospitals “have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied.”

“Remember, we are a backup for them,” the president added. “The complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit.”

During an interview Thursday afternoon on CNN, Murphy said he “wouldn’t describe our appetite as insatiable.”

“We’re not asking for a speck more than we need,” the governor said on “The Situation Room.” “The federal government, there’s nothing replacing it. The federal government has to play a big outsize role right now. ... They have delivered. I am grateful for that."

Murphy has put New Jersey into near-lockdown to increase social distancing, help slow the virus’ spread, and prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. He’s ordered residents to stay at home, banned social gatherings, and mandated all non-essential businesses close.

The governor said Wednesday night that New Jersey residents should expect the fallout from the virus to drag “deep into May.”

“We can lower these numbers, and we will,” Murphy said Thursday. “The way we do that is aggressively and continuously practicing our social distancing."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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