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Elon Musk lashed out at reports that he never delivered ventilators to California hospitals. Here's what's going on, and why Musk's ventilator efforts have become controversial.

Elon Musk lashed out at reports that he never delivered ventilators to California hospitals. Here's what's going on, and why Musk's ventilator efforts have become controversial.
Why Elon Musk's offer to supply ventilators has become controversial - Business Insider

Elon Musk's ventilator efforts have been repeatedly called into question since he announced that Tesla would help during the coronavirus crisis.

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Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Jae C. Hong/AP
  • Elon Musk is calling out a report that he didn't follow through on his promise to deliver ventilators to hospitals in California. 
  • CNN cited a report from the Sacramento Bee that the governor's office said no California hospital had received the 1,000 ventilators Musk promised last month. 
  • Musk posted what he said was a partial list of hospitals that had received ventilators from Tesla so far, which included 10 hospitals in California. 
  • Since Musk announced Tesla's ventilator efforts in mid-March — both sourcing devices and delivering them to hospitals, and making new parts for ventilator production — his efforts have been met with scrutiny.
  • Critics have questioned whether he was delivering the machines most-needed to help COVID-19 patients, and now, whether he's delivering the promised number of devices at all. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Elon Musk on Thursday lashed out at news outlets and California Gov. Gavin Newsom over reports that the ventilators he promised haven't been delivered to hospitals. 

Musk tweeted extensively early Thursday morning about a CNN story reporting that none of the 1,000 ventilators he had promised had been received by California hospitals, according to the governor's office. The news was first reported by the Sacramento Bee.

Musk said the report was incorrect, and that Tesla has delivered hundreds of ventilators so far. 

Musk's efforts to help during the coronavirus outbreak have been closely scrutinized over the past several weeks. Musk has been outspoken about the virus on Twitter, positing medical advice and making unverified claims, such as the belief that children are immune from COVID-19.

Musk has also shared Tesla's efforts both to procure ventilators — which are critical for patients enduring the most extreme respiratory effects of the virus, and of which the US is facing dire shortages — and to build parts for new ventilators using SpaceX and Tesla's expertise. 

But Musk's ventilator efforts have been repeatedly called into question — first, whether he was delivering the machines most-needed to help COVID-19 patients, and now whether he's been delivering devices at all. Here's what's going on. 

March 18: Musk vows that Tesla will start producing ventilators.

elon musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

In mid-March, Musk said his company would start producing its own ventilators in the event of a shortage. 

Musk followed up, saying Tesla and SpaceX factories already produced sophisticated components, and that making ventilators wouldn't be a challenge by comparison. 

"Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC systems," Musk said in a follow-up tweet. "SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?"

He tweeted again the next day, saying his companies was already working on the ventilators. 

"We're working on ventilators, even though I think there will not be a shortage by the time we can make enough to matter," Musk tweeted. 

March 19: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asks Tesla to make ventilators for New York hospitals.

Bill De Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx via AP

After Musk promised Tesla would make ventilators in the event of a shortage, FiveThirtyEight editor Nate Silver pointed out that there already was a shortage in New York and Seattle-area hospitals. 

It prompted New York Maybe Bill de Blasio to chime in on Twitter, asking Musk to send ventilators to his city.

"New York City is buying! Our country is facing a drastic shortage and we need ventilators ASAP — we will need thousands in this city over the next few weeks," de Blasio tweeted. "We're getting them as fast as we can but we could use your help! We're reaching out to you directly."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also said during a press conference that he had spoken about ventilators with a "well-known entrepreneur," and said he was "pleased" to see Musk's tweet.

March 23: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces that 1,000 ventilators have arrived in California, courtesy of Elon Musk.

Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Associated Press

At a news conference in late March, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that Elon Musk had ordered a shipment of ventilators and they had arrived in Los Angeles.

"China had an oversupply, so we bought 1255 FDA-approved ResMed, Philips & Medtronic ventilators on Friday night & airshipped them to LA," Musk tweeted

"If you want a free ventilator installed, please let us know!" he said, thanking Tesla's team in China, China's customs authority, and Los Angeles International Airport. 

Newsom called Musk's efforts "heroic." 

March 25: Musk says Tesla's Buffalo, New York, plant would reopen as quickly as possible to make parts for ventilators.

Tesla Buffalo Gigafactory new York
Tesla's Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York.
Brendan McDermid / Reuters

On March 20, New York state issued an order that required all non-essential businesses close in order to slow the spread of the outbreak — Tesla's Buffalo-based Gigafactory included.

Five days later, Musk pledged that the factory would open as quickly as possible to help with ventilator production. 

"Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible," Musk tweeted. "We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York."

March 31: Hospitals across the country post photos thanking Musk for delivering medical devices.

In late March, hospitals in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan began posting tweets thanking Musk and Tesla for donating ventilators. 

Henry Ford Health System in Michigan thanked Musk for a donation of 40 ventilators, Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey tweeted that Musk's respirators were "saving lives," and NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst in Queens, New York, posted a photo of healthcare workers standing in front of boxes of medical devices bearing Tesla stickers. 

 

April 2: Musk defends the ventilators he delivered after facing criticism for sending non-invasive BiPAP machines instead of traditional ventilators.

Ventilator rationing could soon become a reality
An invasive ventilator inside a hospital room.
Uwe Anspach/dpa/Getty Images

After more photos began surfacing of hospitals that had received deliveries from Musk, critics called into question why the devices were bilevel non-invasive ventilators, known as BiPAP machines, instead of traditional ventilators. 

BiPAP devices are typically used to treat conditions like sleep apnea, and some doctors have warned the machines could cause the virus to spread faster. The devices in the photos were made by a company called ResMed, which told the Financial Times that "we applaud any company who can help get ventilators and other respiratory products to those in need."

Musk defended the machines on Twitter, saying that "all hospitals were given exact specifications of Resmed & Philips ventilators before delivery & all confirmed they would be critical."

The Food and Drug Administration has since said that BiPAP and similar CPAP machines can be used as an alternative to traditional ventilators, which cost significantly more then BiPAP machines. Several companies and hospital systems have begun working on ways to retrofit the machines to make them more useful in treating COVID-19 patients. 

However, Musk tweeted that Tesla would start delivering Medtronic invasive ventilators in the New York metro area as well. 

April 5: Tesla posts a video of its engineers demonstrating how they were making ventilator parts.

 

Tesla engineers showed off the company's design and some prototype parts, saying they're made from Tesla car parts. 

"We want to use parts that we know really well, we know the reliability of, and we know can go really fast and they're available in volume," Joe Mardall, Tesla's engineering director, says in the video. 

April 5: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the ventilators Elon Musk's Tesla factories are making won't be done in time to help during the apex of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Elon Musk.
Mary Altaffer/AP; Jae C. Hong/AP

At one of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's daily press briefings in Albany early this month, the governor was asked if he'd had any conversations with Tesla CEO Elon Musk about whether the company's Buffalo-based plant would reopen to produce ventilators.

At the time, Cuomo's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, noted that while Tesla was trying to ramp up in order to get things running as soon as possible, nothing had materialized yet. She also said that Tesla is talking about making only one part of the ventilator, not the entire device.

Cuomo noted that any new ventilator production will be held up by supply-chain issues. 

"Nobody can make you a ventilator right now in two weeks," Cuomo said. "That's General Motors, that's Ford, that's Elon Musk. I don't care how big and how powerful, you can't make ventilators that fast because there are parts that have to come from other countries."

That production timeline means that any Tesla-made ventilators won't be finished in time for the apex of the outbreak in New York state, Cuomo said.

"Their timeframe, frankly, doesn't work for our immediate apex, because whether we're talking two days or 10 days, you're not going to make ventilators at that time," Cuomo said. 

April 16: Musk lashes out at news outlets and Newsom over reports that the ventilators he promised haven't been delivered to hospitals.

Gavin Newsom Elon Musk
Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and Elon Musk.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP; Mike Blake/Reuters

Musk tweeted extensively early Thursday morning about a CNN story reporting that none of the 1,000 ventilators he had promised had been received by California hospitals, according to the governor's office. The news was first reported by the Sacramento Bee.

"Elon Musk and his team told the state that he had procured ventilators and wanted to distribute them directly to hospitals with shortages," a spokesperson for the California governor's Office of Emergency Services told CNN. "The Administration is communicating every day with hospitals across the state about their ventilator supply and to date we have not heard of any hospital system that has received a ventilator directly from Tesla or Musk."

But Musk said the report was false, making a dig at CNN and tweeting at Newsom to "please fix this misunderstanding." 

Musk went on to say he had "receipts," sharing a screenshot of an email between a Tesla employee and a Los Angeles official that said the ventilators had been tested, and a note from a California-based hospital CEO thanking Tesla for delivering ventilators.

Musk also retweeted posts from multiple hospitals — though only one based in California — thanking him and Tesla delivering medical devices, and added that ventilator-maker Medtronic has confirmed it's working with Musk's SpaceX to make parts for ventilators. 

Neither Tesla nor the governor's office responded to Business Insider's request for comment.

April 16: Musk tweets out a "partial list" of hospitals that had received ventilators from Tesla.

According to the list, Tesla has delivered ventilators to 50 hospitals and hospital systems, 10 of which are based in California. The hospitals in California have received a total of 197 ventilators, according to Musk.

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