Hours after a Fox News interview in which he downplayed a national shortage of hospital ventilators to treat patients infected with the coronavirus, President Trump fired off a number of tweets Friday blaming General Motors and its CEO, Mary Barra, for not manufacturing more of them.
As usual with “this” General Motors, things just never seem to work out. They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, “very quickly”. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B. Invoke “P”.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020
The president explained in a later tweet that “P” stood for the Defense Production Act, which many U.S. governors have been demanding Trump use to compel businesses to produce badly needed medical supplies and equipment. Although he invoked the act as a standby, Trump hasn’t issued any specific orders under it, claiming that just the threat of it has prompted companies to step up production on their own.
Trump also lashed out at GM over its decision to shutter an auto manufacturing plant in Lordstown, Ohio, and, without invoking the DPA, demanded it reopen the facility for ventilator production. The company sold the plant in November.
General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!! @GeneralMotors @Ford— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020
Shortly afterward, GM and Ventec Life Systems announced that they would partner to build ventilators at GM’s Kokomo, Ind., manufacturing plant, and would ship them as soon as April. “We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” Barra said in a statement, making no mention of Trump’s tweets.
Governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have been asking the federal government for tens of thousands of additional ventilators to treat patients in respiratory distress from COVID-19. In New York state, the hardest-hit part of the country, more than 39,000 people have tested positive for the virus, and more than 500 have died from it.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Cuomo bristled at the news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would send the state 400 ventilators.
“Really?” Cuomo said. “What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?”
New York currently has 12,000 ventilators on hand, and at Thursday’s coronavirus task force press briefing, Trump said he was sending an additional 4,000 ventilators.
As of Friday morning, New York reported that nearly 1,600 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 are being treated in intensive care units, with the majority using ventilators. Cuomo’s figures were based on predictions that the number of seriously ill patients will increase sharply over the next month. The shortage is already acute in New York City, especially in public hospitals, where some ICUs were reportedly sharing ventilators between two patients, something only done in an emergency.
Hours later, however, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he believed Cuomo’s numbers were inflated.
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump said. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”
On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Trump had scrapped a planned announcement that GM and Ventec Life Systems would jointly produce 80,000 additional ventilators because he deemed the $1 billion cost excessive.
Following Friday’s tweets attacking GM and painting the shortage of ventilators as a dire, all-caps situation, Trump then issued a more upbeat assessment.
We have just purchased many Ventilators from some wonderful companies. Names and numbers will be announced later today!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020
Nineteen minutes later, Trump returned to an attack posture, targeting New York officials over what he claimed was the discovery of ventilators hiding in storage.
Thousand of Federal Government (delivered) Ventilators found in New York storage. N.Y. must distribute NOW!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020
Cuomo called that remark “grossly uninformed,” saying the ventilators are in storage for distribution as and where they are needed.
Ventilators can mean the difference between life and death for COVID-19 patients whose inflamed lungs fill with fluid. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading medical expert on infectious diseases on the coronavirus task force, has stated that 15 to 20 percent of those who contract the coronavirus will require hospitalization. Cuomo has estimated that 40 to 80 percent of New York’s 20 million residents could become infected, although the majority of cases so far have been mild.
While some health experts say those estimates are based on faulty models, many of Trump’s critics say this isn’t the time to risk being wrong.
Dear @realDonaldTrump: It’s possible we have enough ventilators. Or not. For every ventilator we are short, a patient dies.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 27, 2020
You downplayed risk of #COVID19 & now US has most cases in the world. Don’t downplay risks again & repeat the same mistake. Use the Defense Production Act. https://t.co/nIVPDJOzyz
Cuomo had this to say in response:
I hope NY doesn’t ultimately need 30,000 ventilators.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 27, 2020
But I don't operate on opinion and hope.
I operate on facts and data and science.
All the projections say we will need 30,000-40,000 ventilators.
So that is what we will strive to have.
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