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AP: Oklahoma spent $87M on medical gear in early virus wave

December 19, 2020 GMT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Oklahoma spent about $87 million on personal protective gear and medical equipment, much of it going to companies that were quickly formed as states scrambled to buy items such as masks, gloves and gowns.

A public records request by The Associated Press shows the state’s top vendor was Standard Healthcare Supply Inc., an Oklahoma City-based company that was created in March and received $17.8 million for purchases of masks, gloves, gowns and other medical supplies.

The state also spent $9.8 million on masks and gloves from a Utah-based hemp company, Green Rock Hemp Holdings, that got into the protective equipment business in the spring because of its experience doing business in China.

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The AP tallied more than $7 billion in coronavirus purchases by states this spring for personal protective equipment and high-demand medical devices such as ventilators and infrared thermometers. The data covers the period from the emergence of COVID-19 in the U.S. in early 2020 to the start of summer.

The AP’s data, obtained through public records requests, is the most comprehensive accounting to date of how much states were buying, what they were spending, and the vendors they were paying during a chaotic spring when inadequate national stockpiles left state governments scrambling for hard-to-get supplies.

The data shows a sharp increase in prices. Before the pandemic, an N95 mask that filters out tiny particles might have cost around 50 cents. This spring, states paid an average of $3 for each N95, according to the AP’s analysis. Some states paid more than $10 a mask to get them quickly.

The AP’s data also shows that millions of dollars flowed from states to businesses that were quickly formed at the start of the pandemic, such as Standard Healthcare Supply. Its owner, Dikran Tourian, said he created the company in March when he learned about widespread shortages of protective gear.

“I’ve got a lot of medical equipment and device importing experience, so I did it originally just to help out,” Tourian told the AP. “States don’t have the infrastructure to import, and the supply chain was completely broken. It created an environment where it was complete survival of the fittest.”

State records show the state made 16 purchases from Tourian’s company from March through May for items that included masks, gowns, gloves and coveralls. The prices of masks obtained by the company ranged from 47 cents each for surgical masks to as much as $3.18 apiece for N95 masks, which are manufactured to filter at least 95% of airborne particles.

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Green Rock Hemp Holdings CEO Joseph Cachey said the company got into the business for many of the same reasons as Tourian, prompted by shortages they figured they could fill.

“Many of the challenges were centered on doing business in China, performing adequate due diligence on suppliers, arranging financial channels, and securing logistical support,” Cachey said in a statement. “These are precisely areas in which GRHH’s sister companies had extensive experience.”

While business has slowed considerably for Tourian, he said he looks back and is proud of the work he accomplished for the state.

“It was the most gratifying thing I’ve done in my career,” he said. “I have friends that are doctors and nurses who were telling me on a regular basis that they just couldn’t get it (personal protective equipment). They could not get respirators. They couldn’t get gowns. So, when you’re watching the news and you see stuff that you imported being delivered, there’s nothing more gratifying than that.”