[Update Below] Earlier today, Governor Andrew Cuomo implored the Trump administration to unload a federal stockpile of ventilators to help New York, which he estimates will need 30,000 ventilators to save the rapidly increasing number of patients sick from coronavirus. To date, the federal government has only provided 400 ventilators to NYC from that stockpile. "You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators!" Cuomo said.
During a Fox News town hall-style appearance this afternoon, Donald Trump shot back at Cuomo, claiming falsely that the governor "rejected buying recommended 16,000 ventilators in 2015 for a pandemic, established death panels and lotteries instead."
Trump appeared to be reading from an article published by Gateway Pundit, a website which MediaBiasFactCheck said has an "extreme right wing bias, [has promoted] conspiracies and numerous instances of publishing false (fake) news." The Washington Post has noted that Gateway Pundit "has a track record of stirring up controversy and generating clicks with a number of stories that quickly fell apart." As you can see below, Trump literally read the headline on air.
The Gateway Pundit article cited an op-ed in RealClearPolitics, another conservative political news site, written by Betsy McCaughey, the former Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1995 to 1998. She writes that in 2015, Cuomo asked health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to assemble a task force and draft rules for allocating ventilators during an influenza pandemic.
That task force came up with rules that will be imposed when ventilators run short. Patients assigned a red code will have the highest access, and other patients will be assigned green, yellow or blue (the worst) depending on a "triage officer's" decision. In truth, a death officer. Let's not sugarcoat it. It won't be up to your own doctor. Cuomo could have purchased the additional 16,000 needed ventilators for $36,000 apiece or a total of $576 million in 2015.
The column, which was first published on something called Creators.com, does not cite any sources for its claims.
According to a press release from 2015, NY State did indeed release new guidelines (updating ones from a 2007 draft) about ventilators. What McCaughey and Trump and the right wing media outlets republishing these claims today ignored is that the release stresses "the guidelines are non-binding and designed with sufficient flexibility to adjust to changing clinical information." There is no mention in the release about a shortage of ventilators. "Pandemic influenza is a foreseeable threat, and New York has a responsibility to plan now," said Zucker. "These guidelines provide an ethical, clinical, and legal framework to help health care providers and the general public make difficult decisions in the event of an influenza pandemic."
"The guidelines were written to reflect the values of New Yorkers, and extensive efforts were made to obtain public input during their development," Susie Han, Deputy Director of the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law and project chair of the guidelines, said at the time. "The guidelines are a living document, intended to be updated and revised in line with advances in clinical knowledge and societal norms."
As Media Matters for America president Angelo Carusone said on Twitter, "Not a single Fox News 'anchor' corrected it or addressed it. Just let the claim that [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] established death panels stand."
At that same Fox News town hall, Trump reiterated his desire for the nation to be "opened up and just raring to go by Easter."
"I give it two weeks," Trump said, suggesting he was ready to phase out his 15-day self-isolating guidelines when they expire. "I guess by Monday or Tuesday, it's about two weeks. We will assess at that time and give it more time if we need a little more time. We have to open this country up." Trump also claimed without evidence, "we can socially distance ourselves and go to work," and that "you're going to have suicides by the thousands" if the shutdown continues.
Even Republican Senator Lindsay Graham seemed uncomfortable with Trump's claims, siding with Cuomo on erring on the side of caution: "Any decision needs to be based on healthcare data with the goal of ensuring we defeat the virus -- not promoting its spread."
In one piece of positive news, Congressman Lee Zeldin announced that 4,000 more ventilators are being sent from FEMA to New York over the next 24 hours. "Working to secure more now to be best prepared for the coming days & weeks in case this pace continues," he added.
[Update] A spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo pointed out that the "16,000 ventilators" number which was cited in the op-ed came "bizarrely" from a section in the 2015 report on ventilator guidance about what would happen if "an influenza pandemic on the scale of the 1918 pandemic" were to occur.
"[Trump] obviously didn’t read the document he’s citing—this was a five year old advisory task force report, which never recommended the State procure ventilators—it merely referenced that New York wouldn't be equipped with enough ventilators for a 1918 flu pandemic. No one is, including Mr. Trump," said Cuomo's director of communications Dani Lever.