Pence visits Wisconsin amid criticism of COVID-19 response

Vice President Mike Pence was highlighting the manufacturing of ventilators during a visit to battleground Wisconsin on Tuesday, a trip that Democrats used to blame the Trump administration for failing to deliver needed supplies to the state to fight the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump has had a "slow and erratic response" to the virus and failed to ramp up production of needed equipment to fight it, Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday. He accused Pence of using the state as a "backdrop to a political photo opportunity."

Wisconsin does not have the supplies it needs to combat the virus, said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, all Democrats, in a letter to Trump sent ahead of the Pence visit.

The criticism echoes concerns from Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and governors across the country about the lack of needed supplies. Pence, who has sought to assure states about federal help, was scheduled to visit a GE Healthcare manufacturing facility to highlight the production of ventilators.

Follow KSTP’s complete COVID-19 coverage

Pocan, citing a letter his office received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier on Tuesday, said that Wisconsin has received only a fraction of the supplies that Evers has requested. The White House provided a tally that included supplies provided by FEMA as well as what has been purchased from private vendors.

"It’s pathetic what they’ve delivered us in the state of Wisconsin," Pocan said.

For example, Wisconsin as received about 2,800 out of 60,000 plastic tips requested for testing and about 3,500 out of 10,000 testing swabs, letters between the state and federal officials provided by Pocan show. It has also not received the number of reagent kits and other testing materials that Evers requested in March.

FEMA regional administrator James Joseph, in a letter to Pocan, Baldwin and Moore, said the agency had taken "enormous efforts" to get Wisconsin what it requested.

"Unfortunately, the global demand for many of the requested items far outpaces the supply, and so, while we are engaged in intense efforts to increase supply, we must be judicious in our distribution until such time as we can fulfill every request that is made," Joseph wrote.

The Pence visit comes a day after Evers unveiled his state plan for reopening Wisconsin, which is modeled after federal guidelines issued by the Trump administration. One key component of the plan is ensuring there is enough testing available to determine the spread of the virus and then trace contacts of people who are infected.

Wisconsin has increased its testing capacity from two labs processing a few hundred tests a day to 36 labs processing more than 7,500 tests daily. The Evers plan sets a goal of doing 12,000 tests a day and about 85,000 a week.

Another key part of the plan for reopening Wisconsin is ensuring that hospitals have enough equipment, such as ventilators, to handle any surge in patients. So far, Wisconsin hospitals have not reported shortages of ventilators.

According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, there were 318 COVID-19 patients on ventilators as of Monday and there were 1,251 ventilators available in the state.

GE Healthcare announced last month that it was doubling it production of ventilators, expanding the production at its facility in Madison where Pence was visiting to a 24-hour operation. GE said it plans to double production again by the end of June.

To date, 230 people have died in Wisconsin and nearly 4,500 have tested positive. There were 358 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Monday, a decline of 83 patients over the past seven days.