CORONAVIRUS

Iowa buys 1 million non-medical masks from GOP donor's company

Purchase made despite labels warning they aren't meant for medical purposes or hospitals

In March, Gov. Kim Reynolds suspended open bidding requirements for services and supplies needed to fight the coronaviru
In March, Gov. Kim Reynolds suspended open bidding requirements for services and supplies needed to fight the coronavirus. Above, Reynolds speaks during a news briefing at the State Capitol on Wednesday. (Brian Powers/Des Moines Register)

Iowa has purchased 1 million face masks through a Republican campaign vendor that will be used by some health care workers despite labels that warn they aren’t intended for medical purposes or hospitals, records show.

The state’s executive branch last month agreed to buy the reusable cotton masks from Competitive Edge for $1.07 apiece and 1 million filter inserts for them, according to documents recently made public.

The $1.32 million contract was awarded to bolster the state’s personal protective equipment supplies needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

It was Iowa’s fourth purchase order with the Des Moines company owned by David Greenspon, a GOP donor whose business has long sold promotional items such as signs to Republican campaigns.

The packaging on the masks states they are intended for non-medical persons who require protection from “sprays, dust and random particulate debris and fluids.”

“This product is not for use in hospitals or for medical purposes,” the packaging states, according to photos obtained by the Associated Press under the open-records law.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency authorization in April saying that non-medical masks can be worn by health care personnel to cover their noises and mouths to help prevent the spread of the virus.

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But the guidance warned that they aren’t considered personal protective equipment and aren’t to be substituted for respirators or surgical masks when those are necessary.

Iowa’s masks will be used by patients and workers in non-surgical environments, such as clinical staff who are not involved in direct patient care, said John Benson, a spokesman for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

They will be washed and reused so as to conserve sterile surgical masks, he said.

Such uses are allowed under an order from the Iowa Department of Public Health to address the state’s shortage of personal protective equipment, he said.

The state previously purchased 1 million gowns from Competitive Edge that also are considered non-medical. Those gowns will be sent to long-term care facilities in accordance with public health guidance, Benson said.

The North Dakota Department of Health considered buying similar gowns through Competitive Edge last month after receiving a recommendation from Iowa officials and samples from the company, emails show.

But that agency “decided not to move it forward for purchasing because the gowns were labeled as non-medical use,” agency spokeswoman Nicole Peske told the AP.

In April, Iowa agreed to buy the gowns and 100,000 goggles through Competitive Edge in three contracts totaling $7.2 million.

State Auditor Rob Sand is reviewing the no-bid contracts, which were awarded on an emergency basis as Iowa scrambled to rebuild its PPE stockpile.

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In March, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds suspended open bidding requirements for services and supplies needed to fight the coronavirus. At the time, the state faced a dire shortage of gowns, masks, face shields and other supplies.

Reynolds said Wednesday that the state now has enough supplies in all essential categories of PPE to operate health care facilities for 14 weeks.

Competitive Edge has long supplied campaigns materials to Republican candidates, and Greenspon has donated to many of them.

In February, he gave $15,000 to Trump Victory, a group supporting the president’s reelection campaign and Republican allies.

Greenspon has said his political ties didn’t land him the contracts and that state officials contacted him for help because of his experience importing from China.

Greenspon had no previous experience supplying protective equipment.

Greenspon said in an email all the supplies ordered by Iowa were made in accordance with the state’s specifications, have been manufactured in China and are on their way.

He said shipments should be arriving from now through the end of the month.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.