Governors warn shortages will put their states in 'dire straits' as early as this week

The coordinator of the federal coronavirus task force advised states to pursue all options to procure equipment.

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By Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — Governors of two states dealing with surges in coronavirus cases sounded the alarm Sunday about the lack of resources to respond to the crisis and warned that shortages of ventilators and protective equipment could overwhelm hospitals as soon as this week.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that some hospitals are "already at capacity" and that even despite receiving new shipments of protective equipment as recently as Saturday, her state is "going to be in dire straits again in a matter of days."

And Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned that hospitals in the New Orleans area could be overwhelmed in the coming days, too.

"We know that if we don't flatten the curve, we are on a trajectory currently to exceed our capacity in the New Orleans area for ventilators by about April the 4th and all beds available in hospitals by about April the 10th," Edwards said.

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After a long back-and-forth period over whether to use the Defense Production Act, a measure that allows the president to compel companies to produce materials for the national defense, President Donald Trump invoked the measure Friday to order General Motors to make more ventilators.

Even so, with the number of cases steadily rising, governors across the country are echoing warnings about looming equipment shortages as viral images show the dire situation in some hospitals. As of Sunday morning, there have been at least 121,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. and more than 2,000 deaths, according to NBC News.

Asked how governors should address those looming shortages, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force response, said it will take a double-barreled approach: the federal government "looking to increase procurements and states looking for every single option that they have."

"We've been raising the alert in all metro areas and in all states. No state, no metro area will be spared," she said on "Meet the Press."

"The sooner we react, and the sooner the states and the metro areas react and ensure that they put in full mitigation, at the same time understanding exactly what their hospitals need," Birx added, "then we'll be able to move forward together and protect the most Americans."

Whitmer, a Democrat like Edwards, expressed frustration with the process, however, saying states and the federal government are all "bidding against one another" as they look to procure more ventilators and other important equipment.

"That's a frustration point that is not unique to Michigan but is certainly a part of the issue we are all confronting," she said.

"There's not enough ventilators. We need thousands of ventilators in Michigan. There's not enough N95 masks," she said. "We've got nurses who are wearing the same mask from the minute they show up from their long shift till the end of that shift."

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Also appearing on "Meet the Press," former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential front-runner, said that if he were president, he would be more aggressive in compelling companies to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment to address the predicted shortfalls.

"I would make sure that he uses the Defense Production Act, not only to deal with the issue of whether or not there are ventilators, but I would do the same thing for masks and gowns and masks and shields, all the things our first responders and doctors and nurses need," he said.

"Why are we waiting? We know they're needed. They're going to be increasingly needed."