Mar 22, 2020 - Health

Non-medical business giants help hospitals facing supplies shortage

A woman makes face masks at a textile factory in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on March 16. Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images

Apple, GM and Tesla are among the U.S. firms diversifying from their specialist areas to help deliver essential medical supplies like masks and ventilators to assist in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: Testing capacity for COVID-19 has expanded in the U.S., as demand for medical equipment increases. Leading medical associations expressed concern in a letter to President Trump Saturday that "there will not be enough medical supplies, including ventilators, to respond to the projected COVID-­19 outbreak."

  • Doctors have reported a shortage of N95 fitted masks, "a necessary tool to prevent healthy people from getting sick because they help block 95% of microbes," notes Axios' Marisa Fernandez.
  • Case numbers surged to 26,747 in the U.S. early Sunday — the third-highest in the world after China and Italy.

Leading the charge: An Apple spokesperson told Axios that the tech giant would donate millions of masks to authorities worldwide — including 2 million to the Trump administration to distribute around the U.S. and a further 1 million to California's government.

  • President Trump praised Hanes clothing company at a White House briefing Saturday for "retrofitting its manufacturing capabilities in large sections of the plants to produce masks and they're in the process right now."
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has previously downplayed the coronavirus, said his company would provide 250,000 masks to California hospitals, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told a news conference Saturday.
  • Tesla is in talks with medical device company Medtronic to make "state-of-the-art ventilators," Musk tweeted Saturday.
  • American brewer Anheuser-Busch announced Saturday it's using its supply and logistics network to begin producing and distributing bottles of hand sanitizer.
  • GM and Ventec Life Systems announced in a statement Friday that they are collaborating, in cooperation with StopTheSpread.org, the nation's coordinated private sector response to the COVID-19, "to enable Ventec to increase production of its respiratory care products" including ventilators.
  • GM and Ford both confirmed Thursday they were in talks with the Trump administration about the possibility of making such medical equipment to assist in the fight against the virus.
  • Freight logistics firm Flexport has "successfully sourced and is buying around $1.4 million worth of face-masks and other medical protective equipment that were requested by San Francisco's Department of Public Health," per Axios' Dan Primack.

The big picture: Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in order to help get medical supplies where needed.

  • A White House official told Axios' Alayna Treene the president is using the Defense Production Act to drive the private-sector’s response to this crisis. "[T]he private-sector’s response, to date, to his direction has been overwhelming, fulfilling government-identified needs faster than anyone thought possible," the official said.
  • Vice President Mike Pence said at the briefing Saturday the Department of Health and Human Services had "placed an order for hundreds of millions of N95 masks," though it's unclear when these would arrive.

Go deeper: Delivery date of medical masks to doctors, nurses unclear

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Trump erupts at GM over ventilators

President Trump speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 26. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

At President Trump's urging, automakers have mobilized with astonishing speed to help medical equipment makers produce much-needed ventilators and masks to fight the coronavirus.

But, but, but: With pressure mounting as the pandemic spreads and mixed signals coming from the White House's emergency response team, an agitated president lashed out at GM and Ford Friday morning on Twitter.

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Where tech firms are getting the masks they're donating

Photo: Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

U.S. tech firms are donating big supplies of N95 masks, raising questions about why they have them in the first place. It largely comes down to stockpiling for California’s wildfires.

Why it matters: Health care professionals need all the masks they can get their hands on (far more than that, really).

How America’s ventilator shortage became GM’s problem

GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to build ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Ventec

President Trump on Friday ordered General Motors to make ventilators to help coronavirus patients — something the automaker was already on track to do.

Why it matters: The United States was caught flat-footed by the surge in demand for medical supplies. If the federal government had enlisted manufacturers earlier, when the virus was beginning to spread throughout the world, GM and other manufacturers could already be producing thousands of ventilators per month.

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