Trump says ‘not easy’ to get face masks, ventilators to U.S. states

U.S. President Donald Trump, with ‪Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Bill Barr‬, leads the daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday acknowledged the difficulty of procuring crucial healthcare supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic as state and local officials raise alarms about a healthcare delivery system in danger of collapse.

In an early morning tweet, Trump said: “The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy.”

Some state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action amid the swiftly spreading coronavirus, saying having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies against other states and municipalities, the U.S. government and even other countries.

In New York state, the epicentre of the U.S. outbreak, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has appealed for ventilators, masks and other medical equipment as the number of coronavirus cases spiralled and critical items were in short supply. Officials in California, another hot spot, called for 50,000 additional hospital beds.

Trump on Tuesday said federal officials had procured 400 ventilators for New York City and pointed to four temporary hospitals being arranged in the state. New York officials could not be immediately reached for comment on Trump’s tweet.

State governors and others have called on Trump to leverage the Defense Production Act, a measure that would allow the U.S. government to speed up manufacturing. The Republican president on Sunday said he hesitated to utilizse it because “nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept.”

Congress is grappling with a far-reaching economic stabilization package for the coronavirus crisis that could include more money for hospitals and equipment, among other needs. Democrats and Republicans have so far failed to reach an agreement, but the U.S. Treasury secretary and the Senate Democratic leader late on Monday expressed optimism that a deal could be reached soon.