Phoenix Officials Optimistic About Getting More Protective Masks, Some Other Supplies

Published: Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 2:02pm
Updated: Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 2:03pm
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MARK BRODIE: Like many cities, Phoenix is trying to prepare for a peak in coronavirus cases. Yesterday the council heard the latest on the city’s supply of health items as well as an update on federal financial help. KJZZ’s Christina Estes listened to the presentations and she joins me now. Good morning, Christina.

CHRISTINA ESTES: Good morning.

BRODIE: Let’s start with some of the equipment we hear so much about. How’s the city’s supply of masks look for its first responders and frontline workers?

ESTES: As of yesterday, Phoenix reported a little more than 31,000 surgical masks and close to 68,000 N95 masks. The N95 masks offer more protection against airborne particles, like viruses, and they’re in demand across the world. Phoenix’s Chief Financial Officer Denise Olson told the council just because the city places an order doesn’t mean they get it.

DENISE OLSON: We also have had now three situations where we’ve put in orders for supplies — two were for masks and one was for clothing, protective clothing— that had been commandeered by the federal government, so what happens is we put in the order and then the federal government comes in and takes that order away from us and we’re not able to get those products.

ESTES: But she told the council a large shipment of N95 masks should arrive soon.

OLSON: We’re anticipating 500,000 over the next 1.5 months with the first amount coming in about 15 days. So, overall, we’re feeling fairly confident we can get through the next six months in terms of masks.

BRODIE: What about disinfectant and hand sanitizers?

ESTES: Some good news on that front. The city connected with a local vendor that had been doing a lot of work for the convention center before the pandemic forced so many events to be canceled. Over the weekend, the vendor set up a mixing machine at the fire department’s inventory warehouse, and they’re making a disinfectant that’s being bottled and sent to transit, parks and other city departments. They also expect to get 500 cases of hand sanitizer over the next week.

BRODIE: This is arguably as much an economic crisis as a public health crisis. We talked last week about the grim outlook for Sky Harbor Airport and Phoenix has to re-evaluate its entire budget that begins July 1. What are you hearing in terms of federal help for the city?

ESTES: Congress has passed three pieces of legislation related to the pandemic. The most recent bill was signed by President Trump late last week — it provides more than $2 trillion in relief. A lot of details still to be worked out but the goal is to get a significant amount of money to states and cities within 30 days.

BRODIE: Can you give us some examples?

ESTES: There’s a coronavirus relief fund that provides a minimum of $1.25 billion for each state. Out of that $1.25 billion, up to 45% can go to larger cities and counties based on their populations. In our case, Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson, along with Maricopa and Pima counties would qualify. There was no specific dollar amount mentioned but there was for another program called Community and Development Block Grants.

BRODIE: Those grants are really popular among neighborhood groups. How much more could Phoenix see?

ESTES: The city should get nearly $10 million in the next 30 days. Another round of $3 billion will be distributed to communities based on a formula that takes into account the virus’s impact on communities.

BRODIE: What about help for people experiencing homelessness?

ESTES: Housing and Urban Development is setting aside an extra $4 billion to address homelessness. Half will be distributed through its typical formula which means Phoenix expects to get another $10 million. The other half will be based on a formula that takes into account the virus’s impact on the homeless community. And that money should be distributed within 90 days.

BRODIE: Homelessness has been an issue for years and getting more political attention lately. Do you think the timing of the virus will help or hurt those efforts?

ESTES: I’m going to play the optimist and here’s why: Just three weeks ago, Mayor Kate Gallego requested city staff come up with a comprehensive plan for Phoenix to address homelessness. And Governor Doug Ducey suggested convening mayors from across the Valley to work on solutions together. So just before this health crisis, there was an acknowledgment among local and state governments that we have a serious problem with homelessness, if not a crisis. With more federal dollars coming our way — especially money specifically earmarked for homelessness — I think we’ll see some action. Phoenix is still counting on having a solid plan to start discussing by June.

BRODIE: KJZZ’s Christina Estes, thank you.

ESTES: You’re welcome.

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