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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

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a powerful and potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring an array of hazards, from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten coastal property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.

2 hours ago - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."