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"I Don't Have an Option": Facing Critical Ventilator Shortage, Cuomo Orders Seizure of Excess Equipment From Private Companies and Hospitals

"It's not that we're going to leave any health care facility without adequate equipment, but they don't need excess equipment."

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is seen during a press conference at the field hospital site at the Javits Center in New York City. (Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is seen during a press conference at the field hospital site at the Javits Center in New York City. (Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Facing what he claims is a shortage of ventilators which will leave New York State without the life-saving equipment in less than a week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday he would sign an executive order allowing the state to seize ventilators from private companies and hospitals that aren't using them in order to treat coronavirus patients in hard-hit areas.

Cuomo said he would direct the National Guard to take ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) from private companies as well as hospitals without large numbers of coronavirus cases. The entities will either have the equipment returned to them or will be reimbursed, the governor said. 

"I understand they don't want to give up their ventilators, ventilators are expensive pieces of equipment," Cuomo told the press. "But I don't have an option. And I'm not going to get into a situation where we know we are running out of ventilators and we have people dying because there are no ventilators."

At press time, more than 102,000 people in New York State had tested positive for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. More than 2,900 people have died of the virus in the state, including at least 1,562 in New York City. 

Cuomo estimated that after the order is carried out, "several hundred" excess ventilators could be made available to the hospitals which need them. Earlier on Friday, the governor warned that he expected the state to run out of available ventilators within six days.

"It's not that we're going to leave any health care facility without adequate equipment, but they don't need excess equipment," Cuomo said. 

President Donald Trump has been excorciated by critics in recent weeks for calling on state governments to "try getting" ventilators and other supplies themselves, calling hospitals that are pleading for more equipment insatiable "complainers," and seizing states' orders while they were en route from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The president has yet to invoke the Defense Production Act on a wide scale to order the production of new ventilators, despite comments suggesting he would.

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On Thursday, Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, suggested that states are misusing the SNS by requesting equipment from it, saying the stockpile is not meant to provide states with supplies even though it is taxpayer-funded. 

Journalist Daniel Dale on Friday pointed out that the SNS website was changed after Kushner's statement.

A description of the program which previously said the stockpile is available "when state, local, tribal, are territorial responders request assistance to support their response efforts" now reads, "Many states have products stockpiled, as well"—reflecting Kushner's earlier statement.

In New York on Friday, Republican lawmakers in the state criticized Cuomo's executive order as an overreach. One reporter at the governor's press conference asked Cuomo if he was concerned that private companies would take legal action against him over the move.

"If they want to sue me for borrowing their excess ventilators to save lives, let them sue me," Cuomo said.

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