WASHINGTON – Two weeks ago, the Pentagon promised to make as many as 2,000 military ventilators available as the federal government strains to contend with the coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, less than half had been allocated, despite a desperate need across the country.
At the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tasked with coordinating the federal response to the outbreak, about 9,000 additional ventilators are also on hold as officials seek to determine where they are needed most urgently.
The combination of scarce supply and high need has sent many states onto the open market, where they are bidding for ventilators from private manufacturers. Their competition in that bidding process: both the federal government and other states.
“It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. He urged FEMA to step in and act as a single purchaser of the vital machines.
The slow deployment of ventilators underscores the ways in which the sprawling federal bureaucracy has fallen short in the crisis. Demand for medical equipment far outpaces the current supply, and the stockpiles that do exist aren’t enough for the hardest-hit areas. That undercuts the air of confidence projected by President Donald Trump at his daily briefings.
Cuomo, whose state has had more than 92,000 cases of COVID-19, warned Thursday that New York has only 2,200 ventilators in its own stockpile after shipping out 600 to New York City, Westchester and Long Island. He would run out in six days at this rate.
FEMA has sent 4,400 ventilators to New York, where officials have said they will likely need 20,000 to 40,000 during the crisis.
It’s not just ventilators. FEMA has been able to fill only a fraction of the requests for protective equipment and medical supplies requested by the five Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia, according to documents released by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who chairs the Oversight and Reform committee.