Elon Musk tweet about supplying masks to hospitals worldwide
Coronavirus 2020

Coronavirus: The Ventilator Debacle

By Robin Postell

Friday, April 3, 2020

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his Thursday, April 2 briefing that buying ventilators isn’t even an option now. There is a bidding war going on between states and FEMA. This is spiking the prices from what ventilators typically cost – $20,000 – to $50,000 and more.

Ventilators at this point are more valuable than gold.

Gov. Cuomo compared it to bidding on eBay.

And ironically, ventilators and other related medical supplies are coming in from China. This after the U.S. sold millions of dollars worth of them in January and February 2020 than any other time in the preceding decade, USA Today reports

Meanwhile, in Elon Musk Land, the billionaire visionary finally piped up on Twitter.

On Tuesday, March 31, at 11:27 a.m., Musk tweeted an important message to the world about providing ventilators.

We have extra FDA-approved ventilators. Will ship to hospitals worldwide within Tesla delivery regions. Device & shipping cost are free. Only requirement is that the vents are needed immediately for patients, not stored in a warehouse. Please me or @Tesla know.

Elon Musk tweet about ventilators

Musk said last week that Tesla had bought more than 1,200 surplus ventilators from China and shipped them to the U.S. by air, joining other companies, including individuals like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, volunteering to help provide essential supplies to the pandemic’s front lines. Kraft took the Patriots’ private plane all the way to China to bring back N95 masks, 300,000 of which he gave to the state of New York.

I’ve been watching Governor (Andrew) Cuomo over the last few weeks, and I just think he’s done an outstanding job. He’s at the epicenter of this crisis, and he has a calming way about him and he brings confidence,” Kraft said on a Thursday night interview on CNN. “And I have a personal tie to New York City. Columbia was good to me and gave me a full scholarship as a kid. I love the city, I love the people there. I don’t think what’s going on is something any of us could imagine. We agreed to buy the masks and give them to the people of the City of New York just to try to bring some hope and goodwill and let people know we’re trying to bring everything together and generate some good feelings.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in CNN interview with NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo

All this while President Trump’s declaration of getting GM to manufacture ventilators all the way back to March 27 (an eternity in coronavirus times) seeming to go nowhere.

This should not have been a surprise. Attempting to find out more about the coronavirus over a month ago, I reached out to my international friends, living in South Korea and Italy, and knew that we here in the states were lagging dangerously behind. First, we weren’t testing (and really still aren’t), and we weren’t paying attention to reports about ventilators being on such short supply.

South Korea was hit hardest after China, and then Italy was bulldozed. We had these countries and their experiences to learn from, but we didn’t.

My friend, Ornella Nocentini in Tuscany, Italy, told me on March 7, 2020:

…earlier this evening my husband told me he read reports from the Association of Anaesthetists, saying that there aren’t enough places for all those who might become infected, and the reality is that they will probably have to do a selection of who is worth taking care of and who isn’t. Can you believe what this could mean? In the year 2020? It’s enough to reflect about. Good night, dear.

Ornella Nocentini, Facebook message March 7, 2020

The increasing number of deaths at that time in Italy was alarming. At first only a portion of the country was on lockdown, then it expanded to include the entire population of 60,482,901. I remember the day the number of deaths in Italy reached 400, which was staggering at the time.

Just two days later, on March 9, Ornella wrote me again:

Robin, what I wrote is really happening in Lombardia. We are now reading around that the situation if more critical than expected and that the health authorities have seized the availability of intensive care wards, in order to distribute them to those who have more possibilities to survive; actually I am not able to tell you more about details or parameters or evidence which this type of screening is done. I assume on the age and health conditions above all. Summing it up, it is SAD.

Ornella Nocentini, from Tuscany, Italy, in Facebook message on March 9, 2020

The day I received that message, it blew me away. The reality of what she was saying wouldn’t become as stark as it is today since these same situations are now happening here in the U.S.

Buzzfeed posted today about doctors in New York who were dealing with this same situation. A doctor requesting anonymity told Buzzfeed:

There’s a list about six [types of] patients that do not get put on a vent. ‘It makes no sense, they’re going to die soon anyway, so let them die’ — like that’s the crazy thought process. This shit hurts.

NYC doctor as told to Buzzfeed, April 3, 2020

New York’s healthcare system is suffering. Watching the pandemic play out there is telling. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has emerged as a rare nonpartisan leader during this time as leadership suffers. President Trump has vacillated back and forth playing blame-games and posturing to an unreasonable extent while the world, frankly, burns up from a pandemic predicted not just by U.S. bestsellers decades ago, but also by Bill Gates, multiple times, as seen in the Ted Talk from April 3, 2015, exactly five years ago today.

Bill Gates couldn’t have been clearer in warning us than in his 2015 Ted talk exactly five years ago today, April 3, 2015

Cuomo, on the other hand, has remained nonpartisan and engaged in a no bullshit way that people can relate to without getting angry.

Which is important.

Gov. Cuomo, whose younger brother and CNN pundit Chris Cuomo has tested positive for the virus and is holed up in the basement of his Long Island home, has been delivering poker-faced reports daily underscoring the essentialness of having ventilators. His stoic sparring with President Trump’s attestations about ventilator accessibility from federal stockpiles has become prime-time news fodder.

Just hours ago Gov. Cuomo announced that he will be using the National Guard to seize ventilators from upstate New York facilities.

During his Friday briefing, Cuomo said:

I’m not going to be in a position where people are dying and we have several hundred ventilators in our own state, somewhere else. I apologize for the hardship to those institutions — ultimately there is no hardship, if you don’t get the ventilator back, I give you my personal word I will pay you for the ventilator — but I’m not going to let people die because we didn’t redeploy these ventilators.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press briefing April 3, 2020
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) delivered a press briefing on Friday, April 3, 2020

New York has an estimated six-day supply of ventilators left based on the current need in the New York City area. About 102,800 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in New York state, with 57,000 in New York City, and nearly 3,218 deaths.

The numbers change fast.

By the minute.

At the moment, the New York City metropolitan area has become the epicenter in the U.S. where most cases and deaths are occurring. No one has really mentioned it, but this can probably be attributed at least in part, perhaps in large part, to the excessive crowding in JFK and LaGuardia (as well as other international airports, like O’Hare in Chicago, where another hotspot is burning) after Trump declared travel restrictions around March 15.

Thousands were jammed into tight spaces in those airports trying to get back into the country before the restrictions trapped them.

I remember watching all those people standing in lines for hours upon hours, waiting to get screened, to go through security, thinking, well, how many of those people are shedders? How many of those have already tested positive? How many of those are carrying the virus but are asymptomatic?

Not even a month later, New York City and surrounding areas have become the hottest spot in the country.

Today’s deaths in the U.S. have exceeded 1,000, a record. We top our records daily here in the states. Our population here is 331,002,651, according to

Keeping track of the numbers can be daunting, but it has become clear now that, as American ex-pat Michael Cavada, living in South Korea, the U.S. is going to be the hardest hit worldwide.

Seattle teenager Arri Schichmann’s website still has impressive information regarding numbers, updated by the minute.

We aren’t even testing the way South Korea did, in order to flatten its curve.

Stay tuned for an updated report from Prof. Cavada.

Writer and photographer since age 7, I took it pro when I turned 21, freelancing for newspapers and magazines internationally. Now, I'm shifting gears looking for new adventures, both personally and professionally - the two have, frequently, been synonymous. A writer must adapt to the tsunami of technology and information in this brave new world. I'm game. R

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