Colorado Purchased 100K COVID-19 Tests From South Korea and 'Kept It Under Wraps' to Avoid Feds Seizure, Says Governor

Colorado Governor Jared Polis did not announce that the state recently received over 100,000 coronavirus test kits from South Korea over fears that federal authorities could seize them.

Multiple instances of feds seizing state supplies of tests and personal protective equipment have been reported since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Polis said on Friday that Colorado kept their latest shipment hidden because the state did not want to lose the tests to "the competition."

"We were worried that the federal government or somebody else would take them," the governor told Colorado Public Radio. "We kept it under wraps. We simply didn't know if anybody would swoop in... I mean, we didn't want another state or the feds or anybody."

"We don't want to give the competition, which could mean other countries, could mean our own country, could mean other states—we don't want to give them a heads up of what we're doing," he added.

Colorado is not the only state government to act out of concern that supplies could be taken by the federal government or others. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan told The Washington Post on Thursday that members of the Maryland National Guard and state police were at an "undisclosed location" protecting 500,000 tests that had recently arrived from South Korea.

Jared Polis
Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently ordered that many nonessential businesses be allowed to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Michael Ciaglo/Getty

Polis said that the state had previously attempted to buy a supply of ventilators but was unable to do so because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) intervened to take control of supplies of the potentially life-saving medical equipment.

"With regard to a ventilator acquisition... we were basically told by the legitimate company and the CEO that, look, FEMA has delayed all the state orders," Polis said. "So, you know, it's not canceled. Maybe you'll get it someday in six months. But basically, FEMA is buying our entire production for four months. We can't fulfill yours."

Polis said that testing has rapidly increased in the state. He noted that the virus is often spread by people who are infected but asymptomatic and said the state would focus on testing workers in assisted living facilities regardless of symptoms. He also suggested that people who think they may have contracted the virus getting tested was of limited value, saying it provides "no clinical benefit."

The governor recently lifted his stay-at-home order in favor of a "safer-at-home" order that began this week. Businesses like salons and in-person shopping at retail stores were allowed to resume Friday. Polling has suggested that clear majority of Colorado residents would rather the stay-at-home order be continued.

Newsweek reached out to Polis for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

"The perception that FEMA is 'out-bidding' states and others for supplies is incorrect," a FEMA spokesperson wrote in a statement to Newsweek. "It's an important point of understanding that due the use of priority ratings in the Defense Production Act to reallocate critical resources, federal government requirements are put ahead of other orders to best assist areas most in need of supplies."

"As FEMA processes orders through the supply chain, we maintain close coordination with states, including Colorado, to identify potential bidding conflicts," they added. "And, if a conflict occurs, we work closely with the state to resolve it in a way that best serves their needs."

Update, 5/4 4:14 p.m.: This article has been updated to include a statement from FEMA.