Paying $10 for a 5-cent mask — local leaders tell Sen. Warner their problems during the COVID-19 crisis


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — From price gouging on hospital gear, to better liquidity in the municipal bond market, a local mayor and three other leaders spoke with Sen. Mark Warner, (D-Va.), Friday afternoon about their challenges during the pandemic.

Warner’s conference call included Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, Hampton Roads Chamber President and CEO Bryan Stephens, Old Dominion University President John Broderick, and President and CEO of Sentara Healthcare Howard Kern.

Kern says because of enormously high demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), he must now go to the international market where “the pricing is outrageous. An N95 mask that used to cost a nickel is now being priced at upwards of 10 dollars.”

Kern wants President Donald Trump to make more extensive use of the Defense Production Act, so that vital hospital supplies can be made in the U.S. He worries how many masks, gowns and gloves will be available when Hampton Roads reaches its peak of COVID-19 cases, expected in mid-May, because larger metro areas will have already peaked weeks earlier.

“We are still way behind on testing,” Warner said. “I think it’s an embarrassment that our country didn’t join with the rest of the international community and adopt the World Health Organization standards.”

ODU’s Broderick says the university now has more than 3,000 courses online, and Warner says he will work to get more reliable broadband in Virginia’s rural areas.

Stephens of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce says his organization is using a survey to gauge the impact on area businesses, sector by sector, with restaurants and lodging already taking a huge hit. According to ODU’s Dragas Center, occupancy in local hotels was down 57% and revenue was down 70% for the last full week in March.

“The next 10 to 12 days are going to be some of the most challenging in the crisis,” Warner told the group.

Warner says direct payments will begin appearing in people’s bank accounts starting in about three weeks, and people on Social Security won’t have to file any additional paperwork.

Meanwhile, small business loan disbursements are going out slowly because of coordination with banks and setting up the guidelines.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander wants Warner to fight to get more availability of municipal bond funding to get money directly to cities in Hampton Roads.

“Workers have been sent home, businesses may never re-open. Travel will never be the same, and of course, we host the regional airport here.”

Sentara’s Kern worries what will be left for Hampton Roads hospitals, because large metro areas will see their peak two or three weeks before our area.

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