Following a tweet from Elon Musk yesterday listing hospitals where Tesla has delivered ventilators, CNN contacted several to learn what they actually received. And, that turns out to be BiPAP and CPAP breathing machines, as some had suspected. Musk previously came under fire after it was learned that his donation of "ventilators" to a hospital in New York were actually BiPAPs.
"We received six CPAPs and we are very grateful for the gift," a spokesperson for Sonoma Valley Hospital told CNN. Another told the news outlet they received 10 BiPAP machines. "They're not full ventilators but there are lots of people that need breathing assistance," said Mammoth Hospital.
That last comment is important to point out. Such alternative breathing machines aren't necessarily a bad gift, but Musk continues to publicly refer to his donations as "ventilators" even though he has acknowledged he knows there's a big difference. CPAPs and BiPAPs are a temporary fix — they can alleviate some of the shortage of ventilators the U.S. is experiencing, but as Musk himself says, they can only really be used with patients experiencing milder symptoms. The U.S. needs ventilators to save lives.
Take CPAP machines, at-home breathing devices used to treat common sleep apnea. CPAPs work by releasing constant, mild air pressure into the lungs through a mask, ensuring the airways remain open. Ventilators, meanwhile, are intended for critical life-saving scenarios, and in severe cases they must be able to replace a patient's breathing functions altogether once they've failed. They push air into the lungs through a tube inserted down the throat and then release it in intervals to mimic actual breathing. Ventilators can also be customized to each patient's needs based on the severity of their case, whereas CPAPs cannot.
CPAP machines typically cost around $600, while the ventilators commonly found in ICUs typically cost upwards of $50,000 each.
It was suspicious that Musk said in his tweets that each "ventilator" had been customized with the exact specifications requested by the hospitals on the list. That's because ventilators are hard to find right now, so where did he get them? And both CPAP and BiPAP machines must be customized before they can be used on COVID-19 patients. CPAPs need software changes that make them capable of performing bi-directional air release like a ventilator. And hospitals have to add a viral filter so infected air isn't released into the hospital; the masks used with CPAP and BiPAP machines typically release unfiltered air back into their surroundings.
What's most incredible is that Musk keeps getting caught saying he's donated ventilators to this or that hospital, only for the public to learn soon after that they weren't ventilators at all. Why does he keep on saying it when he knows he'll get caught? Just be straight up. The donations are a nice gesture but they're not the critical medical devices the country so desperately needs.