CORONAVIRUS

Iowa got free masks from Taiwan and companies, filings show

The Iowa Capitol is seen in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The Iowa Capitol is seen in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — As Iowa faced a shortage of equipment needed to protect people from the coronavirus, the state received timely gifts from a foreign government and major corporations of nearly 1.4 million surgical masks.

New disclosure filings show that the free masks came from the government of Taiwan and its diplomatic office in Chicago, a Chinese auto parts conglomerate, a major apparel company and the state’s largest health insurer.

In all, Gov. Kim Reynolds accepted pandemic-related supplies with an estimated total value of $1.33 million as gifts to the state. A state official acknowledged Wednesday that the gifts weren’t disclosed within 20 days as required by Iowa law.

The biggest and most valuable came from Hanesbrands, the North Carolina-based clothing company that gave 1.2 million of its surgical procedure masks. Some of those masks have been distributed to shoppers for free at grocery stores across the state.

“All of the donations received by the state were greatly appreciated and these donations continue to support response efforts at the local level to COVID-19,” said John Benson, a spokesman for Iowa’s homeland security department.

The government of Taiwan donated 100,000 masks, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago gave 14,000 more. Taiwan has worked to cultivate trade ties with Iowa in recent years, purchasing more corn and soybeans from state farmers.

Wanxiang Automotive Co., a subsidiary of a major Chinese company, donated 50,000 masks. The company, which has long worked to strengthen ties between Iowa and China, announced in May that it was giving 1.1 million masks and 50,000 face shields to Iowa and 11 other states in need of personal protective equipment.

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Des Moines-based Wellmark, a powerful health insurance company, gave 10,000 N95 masks. Procter and Gamble gave the state 330 gallons of hand sanitizer, and Des Moines-based Dickson Industries donated 500 body bags, reports show.

The donations came as Iowa raced to address a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers and people across the state.

Since March, Iowa has spent more than $50 million on dozens of purchases to rebuild its stockpile of masks, face shields, gowns, goggles and other items, documents obtained by the Associated Press show.

All the purchases have bypassed the traditional open bidding process, and some have gone to nontraditional sources. The governor used her emergency powers in March to suspend bidding requirements to expedite the acquisition of goods and services needed to fight coronavirus.

The Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department, which oversees the state stockpile, received the gifts between late March and late May. The agency disclosed them in reports filed Monday with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

Iowa law requires agencies to report gifts worth more than $50 within 20 days of receiving them, but disclosing them late typically does not bring enforcement action.

The reports were filed after the AP inquired about why the body bags donation had not been disclosed as required.

“Due to the high operational tempo, I did not complete the reports in a timely manner,” Benson said Wednesday.

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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.