Elon Musk today tweeted out a "partial list" of hospitals in the U.S. where Tesla has sent ventilators to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. He says that the deliveries were based on direct requests from ICU wards, with "exact specifications" of each unit provided before shipment.
The comments follow reports that the ventilators Musk promised to hospitals never arrived, or were not the life-saving devices he had pledged.
Ventilators are critical in the fight against COVID-19 because they offer mechanical breathing to patients whose lungs have become inflamed as a consequence of contracting the virus. An acute shortage has led some hospitals to experiment with creative but ill-tested solutions like sharing one ventilator between two patients.
Musk, in classic Musk fashion — The CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX has invariably drawn praise and consternation for his efforts to help address the COVID-19 pandemic as more information trickles out about the results of his pledges.
Musk last month announced he had shipped 1,000 ventilators to California hospitals, only for the governor's office to come out this week and say none have received them. Meanwhile in NYC, the "ventilators" that Musk donated to hospitals there turned out to be BiPAP machines, less invasive breathing machines that aren't built for use in life-saving scenarios. BiPAP machines cost around $800 on average, whereas hospital-grade ventilators can cost more than $50,000.
The FDA has approved the use of BiPAP machines on COVID-19 patients as a temporary fix to alleviate the shortage, but they must first be converted into ventilators through modifications to their software and hardware. The agency still recommends using ventilators when possible, especially in severe cases, as they are much more feature-rich and can be customized to the needs of each patient. It's unclear whether or not modified BiPAPs are what Musk is referring to in his tweet.
Tesla has also volunteered to build ventilators itself, last week sharing a video on YouTube of its progress on a prototype model. But the device would need FDA approval, and it's unclear how quickly Tesla could realistically ramp up production. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he doesn't believe Tesla's prototype could be approved and manufactured quickly enough to address the swell of patients that his city is facing. Ford and GE, for comparison, have partnered to make 50,000 ventilators and say they don't expect those to be ready until July.
Admirable, but let's be cautious — It's possible that Musk is starting to finally deliver on his promise of providing ventilators to hospitals. They're sorely needed, with cities like NYC lacking tens of thousands of needed ventilators. If Musk comes through, this act is admirable, all his public shenanigans and bluster aside. But because of his track record, it's hard to believe Musk's tweets on their face. We'll have to see if the hospitals on this list have anything to say.