Puerto Rico needs medical supplies but faces restrictions

Nicole Acevedo

States seeking to buy medical supplies needed for the coronavirus pandemic will be able to buy abroad despite usual restrictions under the federal Buy American Act, according to a FEMA announcement Saturday.

But Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., are at least temporarily not being given that dispensation.

The law requires that agencies prioritize purchase of U.S.-made products.

FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said at a White House press briefing that states can break that rule but added this doesn't apply at this time to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's nonvoting member of Congress, told NBC News that she reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency immediately after the press conference.

"Believe me, this is going to change because it's not just Puerto Rico, it's Washington, D.C., too. They are treating people differently at a time when we all need to get essential items like masks, gloves and health items," Gonzalez said in Spanish.

She said FEMA told her that attorneys are now working to make changes "and give people the ability to buy the supplies they need, like everyone else."

The total number of coronavirus cases in Puerto Rico is 21, including an Italian woman who was receiving treatment on the island and died on Saturday, the Puerto Rican Health Department said.

The 68-year-old woman was on board the Costa Luminosa cruise when she arrived in Puerto Rico earlier this month. She had been experiencing symptoms when the cruise ship docked in the city of San Juan and was taken to a hospital to receive treatment.

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