the national interest

Trump Blames Hospitals for Coronavirus Mask Shortages

The buck stops somewhere else, Trump says he heard. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration dithered as the coronavirus swept the planet, and because of its delay, has had to scramble to provide hospitals with the equipment they need to save lives and protect patients and health care workers, such as face masks and ventilators. State officials, doctors, and nurses have been pleading for more of both. Trump suggested on Sunday that hospitals have been hoarding ventilators and that something more nefarious may be afoot when it comes to their mask supplies.

Trump noted suspiciously that hospitals are now asking for many more masks than they used to, before the coronavirus appeared. “How do you go from [10,000] to 20,000 masks [prior to the pandemic] — to 300,000…” he said, “Something’s going on. And you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? … And we have that happening in numerous places.”

“I don’t think it’s hoarding,” he later added, “I think maybe it’s worse than hoarding.”

Trump provided no evidence to support this accusation. It is true that some people have been stealing masks and other medical supplies from hospitals, but Trump’s insinuation that theft is to blame for hospital mask shortages during this pandemic, at a time when hundreds of hospitals across the country — and countries across the world — are all begging for more masks, is insane.

Some members of Trump’s own administration were fully aware that American hospitals would soon need massive numbers of masks. On February 5, HHS Secretary Alex Azar asked for $2 billion to purchase more, and was shortchanged by the Office of Management and Budget, reports the Washington Post.

But Trump has also consistently foisted blame for his administration’s failure onto others. Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show last Thursday night, Trump denied that hospitals actually needed all the ventilators they say they need. (“A lot of equipment is being asked for that I don’t think they will need… I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they are going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go to major hospitals, sometimes they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”)

The dynamic with the ventilators is the same as the masks. Hospitals need way more because they have way more patients, and patients with COVID-19 are far more likely to need ventilators, and doctors and hospitals treating a highly contagious respiratory disease are far more likely to need protective gear. The fairly simple dynamic that a global pandemic creates a massively elevated demand for equipment necessary for its treatment — which is no more complex than how Halloween creates a demand for pumpkins in late October — appears to be incomprehensible to Trump.

Of course, he is also motivated to deny the crisis. Trump has claimed the need for ventilators was completely unpredictable (“No one in their wildest dreams thought we’d need tens of thousands of ventilators,”) that the shortage of masks is Obama’s fault, and governors “should try getting [them] yourselves.” His attempts to shirk blame for the catastrophe are growing increasingly pathological.

Trump Blames Hospitals for Coronavirus Mask Shortages