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LI native heading drive for personal protective gear amid pandemic

Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, supply chain task

Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, supply chain task force lead at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, speaks during a press briefing with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 5. Credit: Getty Images/Sarah Silbiger

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has tapped a Long Island native — Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk — to coordinate the federal government’s collection and distribution of medical supplies as hospitals nationwide continue to compete for coveted face masks, gloves and medical gowns.

Polowczyk, a decorated officer who grew up in Manhasset, described his latest mission in deeply personal terms at a recent White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, noting his family ties to Long Island and Westchester County, two of the areas with the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the state.

“The president gave me one task: Get more to our health care workers now, and I took that to heart because … I have family in New York,” Polowczyk said at a recent briefing. “My sister is a nurse practitioner in a Westchester hospital, and my niece is a nurse in a Long Island hospital, and I have other health care professionals in the family. So I have skin in this game.”

Polowczyk is the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force, a role he was appointed to in mid-March as state governors continued to plead with the Trump administration for aid in acquiring personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus fight.

Polowczyk’s more than three-decade career in the U.S. Navy has largely focused on managing logistics. After graduating from Manhasset High School in 1983, where he played on the school’s football and lacrosse teams, Polowczyk went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland where he earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering in 1987.

Polowczyk rose through the ranks from serving on the USS Queenfish submarine to currently serving as vice director for logistics for the Department of Defense’s Joint Staff.

The admiral also has studied business and public policy at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, the National Defense University and Dartmouth College. Since 2014 he has volunteered with Homeward Bound Schnauzer Rescue, a Maryland-based dog shelter, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Those who have worked with him praise his attention to detail.

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Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he has communicated regularly with Polowczyk by phone and by text over the past week as Zeldin worked to secure additional face masks from the federal government for Long Island hospital workers.

“In our conversations it got to the detail of the county's preference of percentages on sizes. How many regular size masks and how many small size masks they wanted. So he certainly is an attention-to-detail focused leader,” Zeldin said.

Trump has repeatedly touted Polowczyk’s experience amid calls from Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for the president to appoint a military leader to serve as a coronavirus “czar” to coordinate both the production of needed equipment and the distribution. Under the administration’s current setup, White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro is the lead official tasked with coordinating the increase in production of supplies, while Polowczyk primarily handles their acquisition and distribution.

Trump in an April 2 letter to Schumer released by the White House rejected the need for a czar saying: “A ‘senior military officer’ is in charge of purchasing, distributing, etc. His name is Rear Admiral John Polowczyk. He is working 24 hours a day, and is highly respected by everyone.”

Schumer on Twitter reiterated his position that “one person” should “lead both production and distribution of critical medical supplies.”

“If things are going so well with the distribution of critical medical supplies, why are there complaints from one end of America to the other?” Schumer said.

Vice President Mike Pence, asked about Schumer’s recommendation to appoint a military official as a virus czar, argued at a recent briefing that FEMA was implementing a military approach, and “with Admiral John Polowczyk at the helm of our logistics effort, we have visibility now on all the supplies that are moving across this country and into this country from around the world.”

Polowczyk in his debut White House press briefing on April 2 described the federal government's “Project Air Bridge” effort which looks to expedite the amount of time it takes to receive supplies from overseas manufactures from weeks to days.

As of last Thursday, the federal government had completed more than 24 “air bridge” flights that rush supplies manufactured in China to the United States, and another 49 flights are in the works, according to the White House.

“It normally takes approximately 37 days to get from overseas, the product — load it, get it to the United States, and distribute it. That's about 37 days,” Polowczyk said. So, to prime the pump, so to speak, we have lined on an air bridge to get product here faster, working with our major suppliers … as they work to fill orders to get more to health care workers now.”

The supplies are being distributed to some of the country’s major medical distribution companies, who then are tasked with disbursing them to states who have purchased those products.

Asked why the products aren’t released first to the state stockpiles instead of the private distribution firms, Polowczyk told reporters, “I'm not here to disrupt a supply chain,” adding that the companies already have “trucks to go to the hospital door every day.”

“We have a tool to be able to use their data and see it. I can tell what product is coming in, what their orders are, what they're filling, what they're not filling, and see the volume in the supply chain, and understand what they're doing down to the county level. We're working to get it potentially down to the hospital level,” Polowczyk said.

Zeldin, an avid Trump supporter who last Saturday issued a tweet pleading for Americans to “send” supplies to Suffolk, said the White House’s swift response to his tweet and subsequent delivery of more than 380,000 face masks over the past week, was due to Long Island’s emergence as a “hot spot” for cases.

Zeldin said that although Polowczyk has a “strong connection” to Long Island, the area is not receiving preferential treatment.

“He's involved in a national effort,” Zeldin said. “I know that there is a focus in that effort on hot spots and there's no greater hot spot right now than the downstate New York region. Over the course of the last week or so, there has been a heightened awareness of a shift from New York City to Long Island, as far as the numbers coming in …. In this national effort he’s prioritizing where the greatest needs are.”

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