General Motors will make ventilators to help fight the worst cases of COVID-19

 theverge.com  03/27/2020 17:23:33   Sean O'Kane
GM CEO Mary Barra Holds Press Conference On Ignition Switch Recall Photo by Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

General Motors will manufacture ventilators that are crucial to fighting the worst symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. One thousand members of the automakers unionized workforce will build the equipment for ventilator company Ventec Life Systems at GMs factory in Kokomo, Indiana, which has been shut down during the pandemic. The goal is to eventually make 10,000 ventilators per month, according to GM and Ventec, but the companies didnt say how long it would take to reach that output.

GM will also start making surgical masks, a critical component for health care workers, at its idled factory in Warren, Michigan, next week. The automaker plans to make 50,000 masks per day within two weeks, with a possible total output of 100,000 per day.

The automaker joins a large collective effort from corporations around the country to produce resources that the federal government is failing to provide to the parts of the country that have been hit worst by the pandemic. Tesla is helping source ventilators for New York hospitals. Apple has launched a COVID-19 screening app and is donating 10 million surgical masks. Google is making and donating millions of masks as well. Ford is also working with 3M and GE to increase the supply of both ventilators and masks.

GM and Ventecs announcement came about an hour after President Trump tweeted that he wanted General Motors to reopen a factory it no longer owns so that the company can make thousands of ventilators that, last night on Fox News, he said were not necessary. Its unclear why Trump thought GM would be able to reopen the Lordstown, Ohio, factory, as he not only praised the sale last year, but he also broke the news of the deal  where else?  on Twitter.

That Lordstown factory now belongs to a startup called Lordstown Motors, which plans to build electric pickup trucks for commercial fleets. Representatives for the startup did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trumps rage-tweets about GM came mere hours after The New York Times published a report about how the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) balked at the $1 billion price tag proposed by the automaker and Ventec, hundreds of millions of which would go to GM to help ready the Kokomo plant for making ventilators. GM now says it is providing resources at cost, though its not clear if its absorbing that reported nine-figure hit. A spokesperson for GM said the company did not change our approach to this project, and declined to comment on the presidents statements.

GM announced last week that it was working to boost Ventecs ventilator output, and that effort will continue, according to the announcement on Friday. But the administration was reportedly unhappy that GM and Ventec would only be able to make a few thousand of them by the end of April  something Trump seemed to confirm on Friday.

As usual with this General Motors, things just never seem to work out, Trump tweeted on Friday morning. They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, very quickly. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B. Invoke P.

P, Trump clarified in a later tweet, refers to the Defense Production Act, a wartime law that allows a presidential administration to force private-sector businesses to manufacture certain necessary goods. Trump has spent weeks talking about relying on the Defense Production Act to alleviate shortages of critical equipment like ventilators and surgical masks. But so far, hes refused to actually use it, despite repeated requests from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do so. Its not yet clear whether Trump will invoke the Defense Production Act after his tweets on Friday.

In fact, when Trump appeared on Sean Hannitys nightly Fox News show on Thursday, he wrongly implied that the tens of thousands of ventilators that Cuomo has asked for wont be necessary. I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than theyre going to be, he said on the show. I dont believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.

This scattered messaging along with a delayed government response in testing for the virus are big reasons why the United States now has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other country in the world.

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