The Bulletin

Virginia contracts with McKinsey to secure more testing supplies, personal protective equipment

By: - April 10, 2020 5:12 pm

Dr. Daniel Carey is Virginia’s secretary of health. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Virginia officials have signed a contract with the global management consultant firm McKinsey & Company in efforts to procure more personal protective equipment and testing supplies for COVID-19, the disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus.

Virginia Health Secretary Daniel Carey announced the contract at a news briefing on Friday. The state will pay McKinsey roughly $150,000 a week for three weeks, giving the Virginia Department of Emergency Management the option to extend the contract if needed, Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne said in a later phone interview.

Officials contracted with the firm amid a fiercely competitive environment as states bid against the federal government, hospitals and other countries for an often limited supply of medical equipment. 

McKinsey has referenced its work with other states while advertising coronavirus-related consulting services, Layne said, and issued extensive guidance on its webpage.

“Given the really free-for-all in obtaining [personal protective equipment], we’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of offers, some of which are not reputable,” Carey added after the briefing. “We realized that we need some help to make sure we are doing this in a systematic and effective way.”

McKinsey was one of three vendors considered for the contract, Layne said.

In addition to vetting suppliers and estimating need, the firm will offer guidance on Virginia’s testing supply chain, Carey said. Data from the COVID Tracking Project, a site listing coronavirus testing numbers from all 50 states, ranks Virginia in the middle of the country, with fewer tests than nearby Maryland and North Carolina despite being the 12th most populous state in the country, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported

As of Friday, Virginia has received a combined 35,459 negative and positive test results, according to the site, compared to 44,448 in Maryland and 47,809 in North Carolina. Carey said that he spoke to the health secretaries in both states and couldn’t find an obvious reason why Virginia was lagging behind on tests.

“When I talked about our strategies and their strategies, there weren’t any differences,” he said. “But in our engagement with McKinsey, I’ve asked — I want Virginia to be on the forefront of testing, not a laggard. So, how can we get there? We think we’re doing the same thing other states are doing, but we’re open to improvement. We want to get better and better and better.”

Accurately tracking the spread of COVID-19 has been emphasized by countless epidemiologists and other medical experts as one of the primary ways to prevent transmission. As the disease appears to be plateauing in areas like New York and New Jersey — despite high death tolls — states are also considering how to manage their response as cases decline.

Virginia’s peak is estimated to hit in late April to late May, depending on the model, Gov. Ralph Northam has said. While the state’s cases will likely continue to rise in the next few weeks, Carey said that future testing is vital to measure the impact of social distancing measures and make policy decisions on when to loosen restrictions.

“To design all those things, you need to know where it is,” he said. “To a much greater extent. Again, we’ve gotten little to no support from the federal government, so we realize we need help to know what other states are doing.”

On Monday, Northam also announced a $27 million contract with Northfield, a Virginia-based logistics firm, to obtain more personal protective equipment. That order is expected to arrive  Sunday, Carey said.

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Kate Masters
Kate Masters

Kate grew up in Northern Virginia before moving to the Midwest, earning her degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She spent a year covering gun violence and public health for The Trace in Boston before joining The Frederick News-Post in Frederick County, Md. Before joining the Mercury in 2020, she covered state and county politics for the Bethesda Beat in Montgomery County, Md. She was named Virginia's outstanding young journalist for 2021 by the Virginia Press Association.