Doctors and Governors Vie for Masks in Cloak-and-Dagger Deals

“Typically we don’t triage supplies — it’s first come first served,” said Howard Karesh, a company spokesman, adding, “This is a completely different way of operating.”

Medical officials like Dr. Artenstein, who wrote of his travails in The New England Journal of Medicine, say there is little choice but to resort to cloak-and-dagger techniques.

The situation in Massachusetts has worsened quickly. The state’s death toll more than doubled in the seven-day period ending Sunday, eclipsing 1,700, and cases rose by more than 12,000, to 38,077, in that same period.

“When I saw the pallets of supplies, and we tested the masks, I was pretty happy that this could work out,” said Dr. Artenstein, who drove several hours to execute the deal. He said he would not disclose the name of his vendor or its location because he did not want to jeopardize his ability to work with the vendor again.

Just when he thought he had wrapped up his deal, Dr. Artenstein said, the F.B.I. appeared, checking the shipment of one million masks and seeking to verify Dr. Artenstein’s credentials.

In retrospect, he said, he was glad that F.B.I. agents were there, apparently to ensure that the masks were not going to the black market. But then other federal agencies soon got involved, leading to more than 10 hours of delays, he said. The process ended only after the intervention of the Springfield area congressman, Representative Richard E. Neal, a Democrat and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

A FEMA official declined to comment on the specific case that Dr. Artenstein described, and the F.B.I. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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