As the COVID-19 outbreak grows larger by the day, hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) are starting to overflow with patients. With that surge comes a shortage of everything from staff to protective equipment to medical machinery.
Since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, the need for ventilators is extreme. However, there simply aren’t enough of the machines to go around. In response, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that he would start producing ventilators at a company factory “if there is a shortage.”
All it takes is one look at the headlines to realize that there is indeed a shortage, both in the United States and abroad.
Change of Heart
In relation to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Tesla has gotten some surprisingly bad press. The electric carmaker was exceedingly slow to close its Freemont, California factory despite a “shelter in place” order in the Bay Area.
Meanwhile, Musk himself has been vocal on Twitter, downplaying the risks of the virus as recently as last week. On Wednesday night, he wrote, “The panic will cause more harm than the virus, if that hasn’t happened already.”
In a way, that’s true. People rushing out to hoard supplies like food and medicine (and toilet paper) only does more harm than good. Others are left without the essentials. However, COVID-19 infections themselves are also serious.
It seems that a plea from a Tesla owner (who also works in the medical field) may have changed the ambitious CEO’s mind. Raja Abbas wrote on Twitter, “Please repurpose your factory to make ventilators which are needed ASAP.”
Please repurpose your factory to make ventilators which are needed ASAP. I am a Tesla owner and love the company. You have to stop being an idiot about this. This is a massive disaster. Ask the doctors in the field.
— Raja ‘Elon is not an idiot’ Abbas (@suhaylabbas) March 19, 2020
A New York Times report recently documented the fact that leading healthcare experts don’t believe there will be enough ventilators to treat the growing surge of COVID-19 patients in the U.S.
In response, Musk tweeted, “Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly.”
Tesla makes cars with sophisticated hvac systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 19, 2020
Will It Happen?
Whether Musk will follow through on his offer to make ventilators at a Tesla factory remains to be seen. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if the billionaire steps in during this time of crisis.
Nor would it be the first time. Last year, he followed through on a promise to donate water filtration systems and laptops for schools in Flint, Michigan.
Many users on Twitter have provided examples of hospitals experiencing critical shortages of ventilator equipment. These are mostly in the Seattle and New York City areas.
Meanwhile, President Trump recently invoked the Defense Production Act. The measure requires companies to accept and prioritize government contracts. In the past, the act has been used in relation to military supplies in times of war. However, it is now useful to help produce more masks and ventilators in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s possible that Tesla and/or SpaceX would be required to start making ventilators. However, it’s far more likely that Musk follows through on his offer to do so before any such order is made.
The ventilator shortage, regardless of whether Tesla steps in to help or not, is an excellent reminder to stay home and practice social distancing. As the healthcare system struggles to keep up, the only way to avoid a catastrophic reality is to limit the number of COVID-19 cases. Everyone can do their part by limiting their physical contact with others and staying calm at home.