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Trump Seeks Help From Walmart in Securing Surgical Gowns

April 2, 2020, 12:40 AM

Walmart Inc. will help the federal government procure surgical gowns to stem the shortage of personal protective equipment, after President Donald Trump placed a call directly to Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon.

The world’s largest retailer will delve into its sprawling global supply chain to identify a company to make an undisclosed number of gowns, a Walmart spokesman said by phone Wednesday. Walmart does not sell surgical gowns in its stores, but some of its existing suppliers could have the capability to provide them. The order came in the wake of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to a Walmart distribution center in Virginia.

“We just ordered a lot from Walmart,” Trump said Wednesday at a press briefing, adding that McMillon “was very excited by it.”

The demands on health-care workers to treat the surging number of patients stricken by the coronavirus has depleted supplies of personal protective equipment, or PPE. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week that the dearth of PPE is putting front-line responders in danger, which puts everyone at risk.

Countries including Germany, Indonesia and South Korea have limited exports of protective gear, and nurses in New York City have been photographed using garbage bags for gowns.

The $2 trillion stimulus bill passed last week took steps to streamline purchases of PPE, so it’s unclear why the White House is essentially going through a middleman in Walmart, rather than working directly with a gown manufacturer.

What’s clear is that Trump is a fan of the Arkansas-based retailer, having praised the company in several public appearances. Walmart has cemented that bond in recent weeks by offering up its parking lots to open testing centers for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Matthew Boyle in New York at mboyle20@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Crayton Harrison at tharrison5@bloomberg.net

Jeff Sutherland, Will Davies

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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