President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the distribution of medical supplies around the nation in recent weeks, even suggesting without evidence that some hospitals may be misusing protective equipment and masks as cases of the coronavirus continue to surge.
“How do you go from using 10,000 to 20,000 [masks] to 300,000?” Trump asked during a press briefing in the Rose Garden on Sunday. “Even though this is different. Something’s going on. Where are the masks going, are they going out the back door?”
The comments came as more than 139,000 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus — the highest number of cases for any nation on the planet. More than 2,300 people have died, including 1,218 in New York, which is an epicenter of the outbreak. As the number of cases continues to rise, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said on Sunday that the city had just one week’s worth of medical supplies to care for infected residents and area hospitals desperately need more ventilators.
The city also reported this week that its 911 system was overwhelmed.
“Our front line health care workers are giving their all; they’re in harm’s way. And, you know, we need to get them relief,” de Blasio said Sunday. “We need to get them support and protection, but also relief. They can’t keep up at this pace.’’
Asked about Trump’s comments on the fate of medical supplies, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday, “I don’t know what he’s trying to say. If he wants to make an accusation, then let him make an accusation. But I don’t know what he’s trying to say by inference.”
He also urged Trump, who has attacked Democratic governors, to not politicize the pandemic, saying that “the virus does not discriminate” between “red states” and “blue states.”
“It’s no time for politics,” Cuomo said. “I’m not going to get into a political dispute with the president. I’m not going to take the bait of a political challenge.”
Hospitals and medical professionals have for weeks warned that stockpiles of medical supplies would not last throughout the pandemic. States have been bidding against each other to get equipment; doctors have resorted to reusing masks in some areas; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went so far as to tell health care providers to use homemade gear like bandanas or scarves “if necessary.”
At the same time, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned that between 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die and millions more could be infected under current projections. Trump said federal social distancing guidelines would be extended until at least April 30 in an attempt to stave off that outcome.
Trump’s claim drew a fierce rebuke from former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic challenger in the upcoming election.
“This is ridiculous and completely false,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “Today’s conspiracy-mongering from our President is among the most reckless and ignorant moves he has made during this crisis, and there have been many. Lives hang in the balance.”
He challenged Trump to use his executive powers under the Defense Production Act to fast-track the manufacturing of supplies in short supply.
On Sunday, however, the president also questioned some states asking for more supplies and ventilators as an influx of patients begins to overload medical facilities, saying, without evidence, that some regions were hoarding equipment.
“Many of the states are stocked up. Some of them don’t admit it,” the president said. “Some hospital chains, as we call them, they are hoarding ventilators they are holding them up. We’ve delivered a lot.”
When asked by a reporter if every American who needs access to a ventilator would get one, Trump did not answer.
“We’re delivering millions and millions of products and all we do is hear, ‘Can we get some more?’” he continued, specifically pointing out masks delivered to New York. “I think people should check that. I think there’s something going on. I don’t think it’s hoarding, I think it’s something worse than hoarding.”
Trump’s comments continue a trend of the White House rejecting calls from lawmakers and health officials for more equipment. On Thursday, the president told Fox News’ Sean Hannity he had a “feeling” that Cuomo’s call for 30,000 ventilators to treat patients was overblown.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” the president said. “You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying can we order 30,000 ventilators?”
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