President Donald Trump, with members of the president's coronavirus task force, speaks during a news conference in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Trump tells governors seeking respirators and other medical equipment to try getting it themselves

“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Trump told states amid a pandemic


Igor Derysh
March 16, 2020 10:46PM (UTC)

President Donald Trump told governors that they should not rely on the federal government to provide states with vital medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves," Trump said on a call with a group of governors, according to The New York Times. "We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself."

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The advice "surprised" some of the governors who have sought urgent assistance from the federal government and drew angry responses from New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Lujan Grisham said there has been little clarity from the White House and that Trump was "creating a situation where states were competing against one another."

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"If one state doesn't get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk," Lujan Grisham said, according to the report.

The call came days after Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, dodged questions about the availability of ventilators four different times during a Fox News interview. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar refused to tell reporters how many ventilators were available in the U.S. on Sunday, citing "national security concerns."

Questions over the nation's ventilator stockpile have raised concerns that the hospital system could soon be overwhelmed by the number of patients dealing with COVID-19. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for Trump to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to "retrofit state buildings, dormitories, et cetera for additional hospital beds."

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"Without immediate action, the imminent failure of hospital systems is all but certain," Cuomo wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Cuomo noted that the U.S. has fewer hospital beds per capita than even countries like Italy, where doctors overwhelmed by ventilator and space shortages have been forced to ration care. New York state has fewer than 54,000 hospital beds and 3,186 ICU beds, Cuomo said, which are already 80% occupied.

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According to one projection, as many as 214 million people in our country could be infected over the course of the epidemic. Of those, as many as 21 million people could require hospitalization," Cuomo wrote. "This would crush the nation's medical system."

Cuomo said New York reached out to retired doctors and nurses to come back to work to stave off staffing shortages, but states need federal assistance in order to handle what's coming.

"This can't be a national policy of every state does its own thing," he told reporters. "You can't have a patchwork quilt of policies."

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that the federal government's response to COVID-19 has been "too little, too late."

"We have received nothing. Zip. Zero. Nothing from them," she said after repeatedly reaching out to the administration. "Let me be really, really clear, we are not getting the equipment we need, and we are not getting the state testing resources we need. This coronavirus is exposing cracks, I would actually say canyons, in our federal health care system."

California officials said they've been forced to navigate the pandemic on their own.

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"This has been mostly a state and local effort," Sacramento County Director of Health Services Peter Beilenson told Politico. "The federal government has been sort of behind the times."

Trump, meanwhile, has rejected any responsibility for delays and problems with the country's response to the pandemic and instead sought to downplay the risks posed by the virus, which has led many of his supporters to ignore public health warnings.

Trump claimed after his Monday call with governors that he had a "very good" discussion.

"Went very well," he claimed, before declaring that it was Cuomo who needed to "do more."

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Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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