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Line workers at the Flint Assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, 2019. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Ford and General Motors are looking into making medical equipment including ventilators that could help combat the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Details: White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News he had spoken with executives including GM CEO Mary Barra about the issue.

What they're saying: A GM spokesperson told the Financial Times that Barra was in talks with the Trump administration "to help find solutions" in response to the pandemic. "[W]e are already studying how we can potentially support production of medical equipment like ventilators," the spokesperson added.

  • A Ford spokesperson said the firm "stands ready to help the administration in any way we can, including the possibility of producing ventilators and other equipment," per Automotive News. Axios has contacted the companies for comment.
  • Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in response to a question on the matter late Wednesday, "We will make ventilators if there is a shortage."

Of note: The announcement of the talks comes after General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler agreed to close all of their North American factories through at least March 30 in order for their plants to be thoroughly sanitized.

Why it matters: Ventilators are critical in the treatment of the most severe cases of COVID-19 in helping patients to breathe. But they're in short supply, per Axios' Caitlin Owens, who notes there are about 62,000 in the U.S. and there's "only a limited ability to tap other supplies."

Zoom in: Airon Corporation, a small ventilator maker in Gainesville, Florida, which would otherwise usually sell 50 machines "in a good month," told WIRED Wednesday the company is struggling to keep up with demand in the U.S. and had to turn down a request from an Italian company for 2,000 machines.

  • The Defense Department announced Tuesday it would make available up to 5 million respirator masks and other personal protective equipment from its strategic reserves to the Department of Health and Human Services for distribution.

The big picture: While China's Hubei province, where the virus was first discovered, reported for the first time no new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the number of infections has continued to surge around the world — including in the U.S., where there were more than 9,300 cases and 150 deaths linked to the pandemic by early Thursday.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper

Trump's assault on Chinese tech left loose ends galore

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's haphazard war on Chinese tech has left the Biden administration with a raft of unfinished business involving efforts to restrict Chinese firms and products in U.S. markets.

Why it matters: The Chinese and American tech industries are joined at the hip in many ways, and that interdependence has shaped decades of prosperity. But now security concerns and economic rivalries are wrenching them apart.

Biden's thin, short path

President Biden has a thin, short path to success in his first six to nine months, top advisers tell Axios. His success, or failure, will dictate whether he can hold off both Republican critics — and activist Democrats who want him to go bigger, faster.

The big picture: Biden has to get vaccinations moving and the stimulus bill pumping, so the economy will start rocking, advisers said. That’s why he loaded his White House with veteran loyalists focused almost exclusively on these two topics.

Most states aren't prioritizing prisons for COVID vaccines

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Most states have not made much of their incarcerated populations eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The big picture: Jails and prisons have seen big outbreaks and a higher death rate than the general public, but with supplies still limited, most governors aren't putting prisoners at the top of the list for vaccines.