President Donald Trump, for the first time on Friday, used the power of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to coerce an American company to produce ventilators desperately needed as the U.S. and its medical professionals on the front lines fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, though, it’s really still up to HHS Secretary Alex Azar to make the following words on paper translate into action.
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) March 27, 2020
The official order, in part:
Section 1. Policy. On March 13, 2020, I declared a national emergency recognizing the threat that the novel (new) coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 poses to our national security. In recognizing the public health risk, I noted that on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the outbreak of COVID-19 (the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2) can be characterized as a pandemic. I also noted that while the Federal Government, along with State and local governments, have taken preventive and proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus and to treat those affected, the spread of COVID-19 within our Nation’s communities threatens to strain our Nation’s healthcare system. I further noted that, to ensure that our healthcare system is able to surge capacity and capability to respond to the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that all health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 are properly distributed to the Nation’s healthcare system and others that need them most at this time. Accordingly, I found that that health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19, including personal protective equipment and ventilators, meet the criteria specified in section 101(b) of the Act (50 U.S.C. 4511(b)).
Sec. 2. Presidential Direction to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary). The Secretary shall use any and all authority available under the Act to require General Motors Company to accept, perform, and prioritize contracts or orders for the number of ventilators that the Secretary determines to be appropriate.
This is a move many have been calling for, and in increasingly dire terms, since President Trump mentioned the DPA on March 18. The projected need for ventilators in New York alone is currently at 30,000 to 40,000, per Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
Earlier on Friday, Ventec Life Systems and GM announced they were partnering to create critical care ventilators.
Ventec and GM are working around the clock to meet the urgent need for more ventilators. Efforts to set up tooling and manufacturing capacity at the GM Kokomo facility are already underway to produce Ventec’s critical care ventilator, VOCSN. Depending on the needs of the federal government, Ventec and GM are poised to deliver the first ventilators next month and ramp up to a manufacturing capacity of more than 10,000 critical care ventilators per month with the infrastructure and capability to scale further.
GM also said it will produce level 1 surgical masks.
“Production will begin next week and within two weeks ramp up to 50,000 masks per day, with the potential to increase to 100,000 per day,” the press release said.
One thing to keep an eye on is whether other companies will be compelled to produce emergency medical supplies.
You can read the presidential memo below:
[Image via Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]
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