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Utah Changing Methods For Getting PPE After Paying $5.7 Million In Shipping Costs

Photo of two forklifts in a large warehouse full of cardboard boxes.
Sonja Hutson
Members of the Utah National Guard drive forklifts through the state's PPE warehouse in Salt Lake City.

During a recent shipping day, Utah’s personal protective equipment warehouse in Salt Lake City was bustling with activity. Forklifts whizzed around, carrying boxes full of gowns, facemasks, and hand sanitizer, and loading them onto trucks headed for hospitals and local health districts. 

Since early March, Utah has spent an estimated $5.7 million to bring personal protective equipment to the state. Now, officials are changing how they get those supplies in order to save money. 

Michael Glenn, who works for the state’s Division of Purchasing and is in charge of warehouse operations, walked over to a pallet of 16 boxes ready to be sent out.

“We'll label it as, you know, University of Utah,” Glenn said. “This week, they're getting gowns, safety glasses.” 

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the state was working to fill a huge demand for PPE in hospitals. They needed to get it quickly, so they brought it to Utah via airplane. 

Utah Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said they started to understand the severity of the pandemic in late January, but didn’t start buying PPE until early March. 

“Even though we knew that there was a bit of a tsunami wave that was coming to us, what we did not know is if that tsunami wave was going to hit us at a full impact of a 10 foot wall,” Anderson said. “Or if it was going to kind of trickle out and just barely wash into Utah.”

The state has since hit its goal to amass a three-month supply, Glenn said.

“As a state, we're keeping a reserve for a surge that we might see in the fall or down the road,” he said.

Because they’ve hit that target, Director of Purchasing Chris Hughes said, they can afford to wait longer for new supplies. Orders are now coming in on boats, which take longer but are much cheaper. 

“We're talking pennies compared to dollars for each item,” Hughes said. “When we did estimates on it, it saved millions of dollars.”

So far, Utah has spent more than $32 million on PPE.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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