Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump blames hospitals for mask and ventilator shortages

Trump suggested the sudden massive increase in need for masks might be the result of something nefarious -- despite the very logical answer being that we have a global pandemic involving a respiratory disease

From accusing hospitals of wasting masks to calling a reporter "threatening," here are five contentious moments from President Trump's March 29 update. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Trump has been focused on shifting blame for whatever becomes of the coronavirus outbreak. And on Sunday, he set about blaming hospitals and states for the well-established shortages of equipment to deal with the situation.

During the daily White House coronavirus briefing in the Rose Garden, Trump suggested that hospitals had squandered or done worse with masks and were “hoarding” ventilators, and that states were requesting equipment despite not needing it.

Trump’s boldest claim was about masks. He noted that current demand wasn’t commensurate with what hospitals typically use and suggested that masks were “going out the back door.”

“It’s a New York hospital, very — it’s packed all the time,” he said. “How do you go from 10 to 20 [thousand masks per week] to 300,000? Ten [thousand] to 20,000 masks, to 300,000 — even though this is different? Something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Are they going out the back door?”

Trump added: “How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places. So somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see from a practical standpoint how that’s possible to go from that to that.”

It wasn’t clear exactly what Trump was suggesting hospitals had done with the masks, given that demand for them has understandably increased exponentially during a global pandemic involving a respiratory disease. (Such masks aren’t needed for all patients.) New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) earlier this month indicated that masks might have been stolen from hospitals and called for an investigation, but he has indicated nothing on the scale of Trump’s remarks.

Later, Trump was asked whether he was accusing hospitals of “inappropriate” use of the masks, and he said he was not.

“No,” Trump said, but then he suggested that might actually be the case. “I want the people in New York to check — Governor Cuomo, Mayor [Bill] de Blasio — that when a hospital that’s getting 10,000 masks goes to 300,000 masks during the same period — and that’s a rapid period — I would like them to check that, because I hear stories like that all the time.”

President Trump said on March 29 that reporters should "look into" where some hospital masks in New York are going, following their sudden surge in demand. (Video: The Washington Post)

Again, the need for masks has increased significantly during this period compared with others. It seemed as though Trump was suddenly suggesting that this increased need was inexplicable — as if hospitals always needed such masks in similar quantities.

At another point, Trump suggested that states begging for equipment are actually “stocked up” and that certain hospitals might be “hoarding” ventilators. (States nationwide have said they also need many of these, too.)

“Frankly, many of the states are stocked up,” Trump said. “Some of them don’t admit it, but they have — we have sent just so much, so many things to them, including ventilators. You know, there’s a question as to hoarding of ventilators, some hospitals and independent hospitals and some hospital chains, as we call them — they are holding ventilators, they don’t want to let ‘em up. We need them for certain areas where there’s big problems.”

President Trump told reporters March 29 "hospitals that are never going to use" ventilators must "release" them for use in fighting the coronavirus outbreak. (Video: The Washington Post)

Again, Trump did not substantiate his claim.

He tied these claims together later in the news conference.

“They’re going from, you heard it, 10,000, 20,000 tops to 300,000 [masks]? And that’s a hospital that’s always full,” he said. “So I think people should check that, because there’s something going on, whether — I don’t think it’s hoarding, I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding. But check it out. Check it out. I don’t know. I don’t know. I think that’s for other people to figure out.”

As The Washington Post reported Sunday, many states have said they have received a fraction of the medical equipment they need to deal with the pandemic. New York has received a few thousand ventilators but said it needs tens of thousands, for example. Trump said Sunday that the federal government needs to keep some in the national stockpile because “we have to hold [them] in case of emergency. We don’t want them going out.”

It’s logical that the federal government and certain hospitals may not want to give up some of their ventilators knowing what could happen in coming weeks. But Trump’s claim about the masks, in particular, is extremely puzzling. Even if masks have possibly been stolen, as Cuomo indicated, Trump’s claim suggests this could be happening on a huge scale.

This post has been updated.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.