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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

51 mins ago - World

In photos: Protests in U.S., across the world over Israeli–Palestinian conflict

A protest march in support of Palestinians near the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of people rallied across the U.S. and the world Saturday following days of violence in Gaza and Israel that's killed at least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children, and eight Israelis, per AP.

The big picture: Most demonstrations were in support of Palestinians. There were tense scenes between pro-Israeli government protesters and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Winnipeg, Canada, and Leipzig, Germany, but no arrests were made, CBS News and DW.com report.

Updated 8 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

"Horrified": AP, Al Jazeera condemn Israel's bombing of their offices in Gaza

A ball of fire erupts from the Jalaa Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday condemned the Israeli airstrike that destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza that housed their and other media offices.

What they're saying: The White House, meanwhile, said it had "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility," according to press secretary Jen Psaki.