Trump promotes conspiracy theories about mask and ventilator shortages

Trump’s boldest claim was about masks. He noted the current demand wasn’t commensurate with what hospitals usually use and suggested 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 demand for them has increased during a global pandemic involving a respiratory disease. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) early this month indicated masks might have been stolen from hospitals and has called for an investigation, but he has indicated nothing on the scale of what Trump talked about.

Later on, he was asked whether he was accusing hospitals of “inappropriate” use of the masks.

“No,” Trump said, but then he suggested that that might actually be the case. “I want the people in New York to check — Governor [Andrew M.] 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.”

Again, the need for masks has very logically increased significantly during this period, relative to other times. It seemed as though Trump was suddenly suggesting that the increased need was inexplicable — like hospitals needed such masks in similar quantities at all times.

At another point, Trump suggested that states that were begging for equipment are actually “stocked up” and that certain hospitals might be “hoarding” ventilators — which, like masks, states nationwide have said they need many more of.

“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.”

Again, Trump didn’t substantiate his claim.

Trump tied the two 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.”

Trump’s admission that he didn’t know whether this is true was remarkable for such a bold claim.

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 has 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 their ventilators knowing what could happen in the coming weeks, though Trump’s claim about the masks, in particular, is extremely puzzling. And it again reinforces how much he has focused on pointing the finger elsewhere.

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