Hundreds of thousands of hoarded medical supplies, including 192,000 N95 respirator masks, are being sent to coronavirus hot spots New York and New Jersey, the departments of Justice and Human and Health Services announced Thursday.
The FBI located the supplies on March 30, as part of its work under the department’s Covid-19 hoarding and price gouging task force, which was announced last week. HHS was then alerted and activated the Defense Production Act to seize the supplies and put them under U.S. government control.
Along with the N95 respirator masks, the FBI also discovered 598,000 medical gloves, 130,000 surgical masks and other supplies like gowns, disinfectant towels, hand sanitizers and disinfectant sprays, materials the Justice Department said are being distributed to states.
"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 Barr said in a statement. "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."
The task force was announced last week after President Donald Trump issued an order to crack down on the uptick of market-manipulating crimes related to the novel coronavirus.
Barr said during a briefing at the White House last Monday that federal law enforcement agencies had been asked to prioritize hoarding and price-gouging investigations amid an uptick in those activities. The attorney general also said hoarding of supplies like masks will be prosecuted.
“Cracking down on the hoarding of vital supplies allows us to distribute this material to the heroic healthcare workers on the frontlines who are most in need," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the statement.
State leaders across the country have called on the federal government to launch a more coordinated effort to obtain and distribute personal protective equipment as hospital systems burn through the protective gear. Health care workers are struggling to get their hands on the vital equipment. Workers in many states have often been forced to reuse supplies, a step some medical professionals blame for health care workers themselves coming down with the virus.