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COVID-19

Why is it so hard for the government to buy PPE?

Andie Corban and Kai Ryssdal May 11, 2020
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Workers produce face masks at the Thai Hospital Product Co. factory in Bangkok. Jonathan Klein/Getty Images
COVID-19

Why is it so hard for the government to buy PPE?

Andie Corban and Kai Ryssdal May 11, 2020
Heard on:
Workers produce face masks at the Thai Hospital Product Co. factory in Bangkok. Jonathan Klein/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

In the past few months, several multimillion-dollar government contracts for face masks have come under scrutiny. David McSwane, an investigative journalist at ProPublica, spent 36 hours watching one such deal fall apart. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked with McSwane about his article on the role of profit in the market for personal protective equipment right now.

“You have unprecedented demand and very little supply,” McSwane said. To profit from that demand, McSwane said, brokers are offering to connect contractors to the face mask supply chain.

“That contractor is weeding through all of these intermediaries who are making big promises, folks who say they have somebody with masks or somebody in China. In the end, for our contractor in this story, navigating that just proved too much and his deal fell through.”

Click the audio player above to hear the interview.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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