California will loan 500 ventilators to the federal government for distribution to states and cities facing a surge in COVID-19 patients.

California to loan 500 ventilators to national stockpile for pandemic

April 08, 2020
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
California will loan 500 ventilators to the federal government’s national stockpile for distribution to states and hospitals overwhelmed with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The loan is in response to a request made by the Trump Administration, through the Federal Emergency Management Administration, to send ventilators to the federal government instead of individual states so that they can be delivered to areas that require them most, reported Reuters.

“For all of those reasons and the responsibility, the moral and ethical responsibility of providing resources in real time to those most in need, that’s why we thought it appropriate,” said the state’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in a news conference on Monday. “If we need them back in a few weeks, we’ll get them back.”

Since the outbreak, California has stepped up ventilator production from the 7,500 it initially had to 11,000, with 500 more slated to arrive this week. The state requires additional ones and is in the process of procuring them, as it faces a slowly rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The total number of cases in the golden state surpassed 16,000 on Monday evening, according to local news outlet, The Mercury News, with 387 deaths reported. More than 2,500 people were in hospitals with the disease, said Newsom, with 1,085 in intensive care.

Newsom says his decision to send the ventilators to the national stockpile came from a conversation he had with Robert Fenton, FEMA’s regional administrator for the western United States, who told him that the administrators of the national stockpile could determine which states and cities have the greatest need for them.

The governor dismissed the notion that it was based on a controversial speech made over the weekend by Jared Kushner, son-in-law and advisor to President Trump, in which he suggested that the national stockpile was for the federal government’s use and told states to use their own supplies first. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services later changed its description of the stockpile to reflect Kushner’s description of its use.

California is not the only state sending ventilators to the stockpile. Following a decrease in the rate of infections and deaths in Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has pledged to return over 400 ventilators it received from the stockpile so that they can be delivered to states that require them.

President Trump also invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure medical suppliers in Texas and Colorado sell equipment to the federal government ahead of states, hospitals and foreign countries. A remnant of the Cold War era, the law enables federal officials to bypass competition and force contractors to supply them before completing orders for other customers, according to Kaiser Health News which notes that federal authorities have staked first rights to $137 million in medical supplies throughout the pandemic.

“It’s like ‘Lord of the Flies’ out there for states and hospitals as they bid against each other for critical medical supplies and equipment,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told KHN. “Plus, there’s no transparency about what the federal government is doing with the equipment that they purchase when they outbid states and hospitals.”

The White House also used the law to force 3M in Minnesota to fill U.S. orders first after it previously said it wouldcontinue to provide respirators to Canadian and Latin American markets, despite the Trump administration demanding that it cease exportation and sell to U.S. consumers instead.

Newsom insists that the ventilators would be loaned but “not given” to the national stockpile.