No evidence for Trump's suggestion that masks are 'going out the back door' of New York hospitals

"It is a fundamental blunder to only prepare for today," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said after the president asked why a hospital needed so much support.

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By Jane C. Timm

President Donald Trump again questioned the rate at which a hospital in New York is using medical supplies, suggesting that theft was why the unnamed facility needs 300,000 masks a week.

The president claimed Monday that a distributor told him that a New York hospital's mask purchases were far too high to reflect actual need.

"There's only a couple of things that could happen — is it going out the back door? And I've reported it to the city and let the city take a look at it. But when you go to 10,000 masks to 300,000 masks... there's something going on," Trump said during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House.

He made the same claim on Sunday, too.

"How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000? Ten to 20,000 masks to 300,000?" the president asked during a Rose Garden news conference. "Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just don't see, from a practical standpoint, how that's possible to go from that to that."

There's no evidence that theft is driving up New York City's needs for personal protective equipment, or PPE — though there were anecdotal reports of medical supply theft weeks ago. But there is ample evidence that the highly contagious virus and fast-growing rate of infection is taxing and overburdening New York's hospitals.

More than 66,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in New York as of Monday, and there were more than 9,500 people hospitalized in the state. The lion's share are in New York City.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, skewered the president for the suggestion, making it clear that hospitals in his state are preparing for the peak of the curve and stockpiling supplies in advance.

"If you are not preparing for the apex and for the high point, you are missing the entire point of the operation," Cuomo said. "It is a fundamental blunder to only prepare for today, that's why in some ways we are where we are. We've been behind this virus from Day One."

He continued: "In terms of the suggestion that PPE equipment is not going to a correct place, I don't know what that means, I don't know what he's trying to say. If he wants to make an accusation, let him make an accusation. But I don't know what he's trying to sayby inference."

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instruct that protective equipment be used for a single patient interaction and then removed, the agency is already giving medical personnel guidelines and strategies on how to ration supplies, including reusing masks or even using bandannas when there are no masks.

New York's public hospital network, NYC Health + Hospitals, has 11 hospitals in the city. They are reusing masks when deemed appropriate by the health care worker, a hospital official said.

"Because of the national picture, we have taken serious measures to conserve what we do have," Deputy Press Secretary Stephanie M. Guzmán told NBC News in a statement Monday. "However, every health care worker in our system who needs PPE is able to receive what they need."

Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said in a statement that New York's health care workers "are treating exploding numbers of COVID-19 patients around the clock — willingly and without complaint."

Raske noted his daughter, an ICU nurse in New York City, is among them.

"They deserve better than their president suggesting PPE is 'going out the back door' of New York hospitals," he added.