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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan imported hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test kits while he continued to turn away offers from authorized U.S. suppliers, according to a new report.
The Republican lawmaker complained in an op-ed that he had “nowhere else to turn” in turning to a South Korean manufacturer to secure 500,000 test kits, even though emails now reveal that domestic companies had offered the products for a lower price, according to The Washington Post.
A Maryland-based sales consultant told the newspaper that he heard nothing back after an email and phone call in April with Jake Whitaker, the deputy director of governmental affairs at Maryland’s state health department and representatives for a domestic test kit manufacturer.
“We had a call, presented what we had, and basically, I heard nothing back,” Rick Vohrer said.
Less than two weeks later, Hogan announced that the state had worked out a deal and secured 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korea, paying about $18 per test in the $9.5 million shipment.
“Luckily we had a very strong relationship with Korea,” Hogan told The New York Times at the time. “But it should not have been this difficult.”
But Utah-based Co-Diagnostics, which was manufacturing the tests distributed by a Florida-based group that was on the phonecall with Whitaker and Vohrer, had gotten the authorization in mid-March to ship tests within the U.S. at a time when states are scrambling to deal with shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The company’s CEO Dwight Egan told the Post that they would have been “very anxious and capable” of handling Maryland’s large order.
Vohrer reportedly followed up with Whitaker even after Hogan’s announcement, reiterating that the testing kits could be obtained more quickly and for less money with the U.S. distributors.
“The test I discussed with you is manufactured domestically, [by] Co-Diagnostics, and is $12.00 for the volume being purchased from Korea,” his email said, according to the Post. “Volumes above one million units can get even better pricing, as low as $10.”
The deal to purchase the more expensive tests from the South Korean company, LabGenomics, was reportedly signed on April 2, the governor’s spokesman Michael Ricci told the Post. This was apparently before Vohrer’s April 10 call with Whitaker but two weeks after the announcement that U.S. manufacturers could provide kits.
Hogan blamed President Trump for his state’s need to turn to a foreign source for the testing kits, writing in an opinion piece this week that his wife, Yumi Hogan, who is a Korean immigrant, had worked hard to secure the deal.
“Eventually, it was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation’s response was hopeless; if we delayed any longer, we’d be condemning more of our citizens to suffering and death. So every governor went their own way,” Hogan wrote in the Washington Post op-ed published Thursday.
“It was jarring, the huge contrast between the experts’ warnings and the president’s public dismissals,” Hogan, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, wrote.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany slammed Hogan during remarks at a news briefing Thursday when asked about his op-ed.
“It’s really striking, his comments, especially when you compare them to his past comments,” she said. “This is revisionist history by Governor Hogan and it stands in stark contrast to what he said on March 19 where he praised the great communication that the president has had with governors.”
(Source: The Hill)
Apparently the South Korean tests could not be used however, because other supplies that were needed were not included in the purchase, WBAL-TV reported. Hogan told the outlet that the test kits that were part of the $9 million purchase were traded in with the company for newer tests at an additional cost.
“They were swapped out, like you trade in your iPhone, for faster, better tests at a couple dollars more per kit,” Hogan told WBAL-TV in a phone interview.
The new tests, which are being processed at the University of Maryland School of Medicine lab, were purchased even though no one had a problem with the original batch. WBAL reporter Jayne Miller noted that the governor said the swap was made – and additional money spent – because there was an “opportunity” to get a better product.
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