Trump Speculates Hospitals Are Hoarding Ventilators, Masks: ‘Are They Going Out the Back Door?’


President Donald Trump raised eyebrows with several comments during Sunday’s Coronavirus Task Force briefing, including his speculating that the significantly increased requests from states and hospitals for ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) like N95 masks indicated that “hoarding” or “maybe worse than hoarding” was happening.

As part of the briefing, Trump had representatives from several companies discuss how they were responding to the coronavirus pandemic, including ramping up the production of masks and other PPE.

One example given was a hospital in New York that would normally use “roughly 10,000 to 20,000 masks a week” but was now was using up to 200,000 to 300,000 a week.

Part of the reason for the increased use is that patients infected with Covid-19 are highly contagious, and the virus is transmitted through aerosolized water droplets in a patient’s breath. Recommendations from the CDC and other health experts say for that every single interaction with a suspected coronavirus patient, a medical provider should wear a new mask and other PPE. Under normal circumstances, not all emergency room or intensive care patients would require such equipment.

Trump questioned out loud what the true reason for the increased demand was, noting that the mask manufacturer had been delivering a weekly supply of 10,000 to 20,000 masks to that particular hospital “for years,” and he questioned how the number jumped all the way to 300,000.

It’s helpful to see Trump’s remarks in their full context, so here is a transcript of the relevant section (emphasis added):

That statement was made, that they have been delivering for years 10,000 to 20,000 masks. Okay. It’s a New York hospital. It’s packed all the time. How do you go from 10,000 to 20,000 to 300,000? 10,000 to 20,000 masks to 300,000?

Even though this is different. Something’s going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000?

And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see from a practical standpoint how that’s possible to go from that to that.

And we have that happening in numerous places. Not to that extent. That was the highest number I’ve heard. That’s the highest number you’ve seen, I would imagine, right? But this man makes them and delivers them to a lot of hospitals. He knows the system better than anybody, and I think you were more surprised than I was when you saw that number, so thank you very much. I hope I didn’t get any of your clients in trouble, but it could be that they are in trouble.

A reporter asked Trump follow up question on this topic, “Were you suggesting there has been inappropriate use of masks or improper conduct with supplies?”

Trump replied that he wanted “the people in New York to check” what was going on, mentioning New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, because there had been such a large increase in a “rapid period.”

Again, here is a transcript of the relevant section of his answer (emphasis added):

So, I think people should check that, because there’s something going on. I don’t think it’s hoarding. I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding. But check it out. Check it out. I don’t know. I don’t know. I think that’s for other people to figure out.

But you don’t go from numbers like that. Now, other equipment, likewise, because we’re delivering a lot of ventilators. And we’re building — by the way, we’re building and buying, and we have a lot of ventilators that we’re going to be sending out very soon. We also have right now in the stockpile almost 10,000 ventilators that we have to hold in case of emergency.

We don’t want them going out and then Louisiana has a tremendous problem, which now we know that they do. All of a sudden it came very quickly. It came — I mean, Louisiana was doing so fantastically well. Then all of a sudden, there was a big rash of cases. So, we have to be prepared to move the ventilators. They’re very important pieces of equipment, and they’re very expensive and they’re very complex. They’re very — it’s like building a car, you know. These are expensive, complicated, very complicated pieces of equipment.

Trump’s comments sparked outrage, from both members of the media and medical providers, who have been posting on their own social media accounts for weeks about their stress from shortages of masks and other essential PPE, as well as the ventilators needed to help critically ill coronavirus patients breathe.

Watch the videos above, via CNN.

UPDATE: The @TrumpWarRoom account (the Trump re-election campaign’s rapid response team) responded to this article with this tweet and a short video clip of Cuomo talking about “people stealing large numbers of masks and medical equipment from hospitals.” For several reasons, this was a retroactive attempt to defend Trump’s comments but not actually applicable to what he actually said.

First of all, this clip of Cuomo is from March 6, and was in reference to reports of individuals stealing masks from hospitals for their own personal use or to potentially resell — not hospital personnel themselves hoarding or reselling equipment.

Also, nothing from Cuomo’s comments at the beginning of the month indicated that he or the New York state police viewed this as a problem at the significant scale Trump was discussing in Sunday’s briefing: someone grabbing a box of masks would not account for an increase of hundreds of thousands of masks needed.

Furthermore, Trump’s comments in their full context — again, why two video clips and long transcripts are included above — make it clear that he is speculating about the hospitals themselves committing some sort of hoarding or fraud. For example, in the first video clip, when Trump mentions “your clients,” he is speaking to the mask manufacturer about that company’s clients: the hospitals ordering and buying the masks.

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