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With ventilators in short supply, companies retool for production

Local businesses, colleges are arming hospitals for the long battle

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California needs to find at least 10,000 ventilators to meet the anticipated respiratory-care needs of patients with severe cases of COVID-19. Where those will come from is still unknown, but now some private businesses and colleges are gearing up to close the gap.

Two Bay Area firms are repurposing their factories to help produce thousands of the specialized devices and are working with other companies in the process. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that Palo Alto-based Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had promised to provide 1,200 ventilators and San Jose-based energy supplier Bloom Energy is refurbishing another 200 older ventilators from the state’s stockpile.

Newsom said during a press conference on Monday that Musk delivered 1,000 ventilators to the state today. Musk also confirmed that achievement.

“China has an oversupply, so we bought 1255 FDA-approved ResMed, Philips & Medtronic ventilators on Friday night & airshipped them to LA. If you want a free ventilator installed, please let us know!” Musk tweeted on Monday evening.

Musk said he would use supply chains that support Tesla and SpaceX to help in assembling the ventilators at the Tesla plant. He said that he had an extensive engineering discussion over the weekend with Minnesota-based Medtronic, a company that manufactures ventilators.

In a tweet, Medtronic said that addressing COVID-19 is a group effort.

“We are grateful for the discussion with @ElonMusk and @Tesla as we work across industries to solve problems and get patients and hospitals the tools they need to continue saving lives, We’re all in this together,” the company stated.

Musk thanked the Tesla China team, China Customs Authority and Los Angeles International Airport for acting swiftly to clear and deliver the machines.

“Getting installed, delivered and operating is the harder part,” he said in an earlier tweet.

Tesla isn’t the only commercial organization racing to fulfill the state’s need. Fuel cell manufacturer Bloom Energy said in a statement that it is using its expertise to refurbish thousands of out-of-service ventilators in the U.S.

“We are working with state agencies and customers -- many of which are hospitals and medical device companies -- to identify supplies of unused, out-of-service ventilators,” the company said.

It is asking for anyone who knows of organizations with out-of-service ventilators or who want to partner with Bloom to email the company at ventilators@bloomenergy.com.

Community colleges are also scouring their inventories for ventilators and protective equipment this week. Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of California Community Colleges and regent of the University of California, said in an email to community colleges that the state is asking any colleges with respiratory-care programs to create a spreadsheet of inventory to potentially be available to the state Health and Human Services Agency. He asked the colleges to respond by March 23.

Six colleges in the Bay Area have respiratory-therapy training programs, according to Brenda Hanning, director of the respiratory therapy program at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Foothill has identified 12 ventilators it could loan to hospitals, some of which are brand new, she said. Even before the governor’s call for the inventories, Hanning said her team was reaching out to local hospitals to see if they needed any ventilators.

“I do appreciate that (the state) is trying to stay ahead of (the virus). It's a smart thing to do. We can end up being the next New York,” she said.

Hospitals and the state are also racing against a depletion of crucial protective gear for their medical teams. Newsom on Monday said the state would need more than 200 million sets of personal protective equipment -- gloves, masks, gowns and face shields -- over the next three months, after new modeling projected a larger surge in the need for hospital beds, staff and equipment. Foothill has located three cases of N-95 masks that it could donate, Hanning said.

Some Bay Area companies are stepping up to supply hundreds of thousands of the rapidly dwindling pieces of protective gear needed by hospital employees.

Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted that the company is donating “millions” of face masks, and Facebook has donated nearly three-quarters of a million face masks and is looking to find millions more, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on the social media site.

“Facebook donated our emergency reserve of 720,000 masks that we had bought in case the wildfires (in California) continued. We’re also working on sourcing millions of more to donate,” he wrote.

San Francisco-based Flexport, a supply logistics company, is working to get protective gear to local health care workers, Ryan Petersen, CEO of Flexport, said in a tweet. The company delivered 60,000 N-95 masks, 34,000 gloves, 2,000 surgical gowns and 50 thermometers to San Francisco, which was running low on protective gear.

Paul Graham, startup investor and co-founder of Y Combinator, donated $1 million for protective gear to Flexport's philanthropic arm, Flexport.org, which is dedicated to providing COVID-19 supplies.

“That gift will pay for almost all the protective gear required by the entire city of San Francisco’s frontline health care workers. We’ll likely distribute the equipment to hospitals in other locations too,” Petersen said.

He encouraged people and businesses to donate funds toward procuring, purchasing and shipping equipment, which it is seeking to provide worldwide.

“Don’t let these brave warriors go to battle armed with their bare hands and some hand sanitizer,” he wrote.

Petersen said Flexport is working to facilitate importation and shipping logistics, often a complex problem for companies. The company’s Flexport.org Fund focuses on supporting the sourcing and transport of supplies for the coronavirus pandemic. It also helps by covering the logistics costs for shipping the needed supplies to nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations.

Flexport also will neither supply nor ship any of the needed protective gear to any private companies or individuals for profit. Only legitimate medical organizations needing the equipment to fight COVID-19 will receive shipments.

“There are global shortages of these products, and it is immoral to allow war-profiteering from entrepreneurs looking to make an easy dollar. We must ensure this gear is delivered to the brave front line workers who need it the most,” he wrote.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.


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2 people like this
Posted by Drop in the bucket
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 28, 2020 at 5:40 am

The Governor says 10,000 more ventilators are needed right away. The article says about 1,455 should be coming. And maybe 100,000 or 200,000 will actually be needed in California alone..

1 person likes this
Posted by Innovators will find a way
a resident of North Bayshore
on Mar 28, 2020 at 9:36 am

Innovators will find a way as long as we highlight them to inspire more to follow!

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