As confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases in the United States surpass 60,000, our nation is in war mode. Winning a war requires all hands on deck. It appears American businesses and innovators are up to the challenge, however, as more and more private companies are contriving creative ways to play a part in beating this pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been making apparent his state’s dire need for more ventilators. In the most severe cases of those infected with COVID-19, patients’ lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid, making them unable to breathe effectively on their own. For these patients, the medical ventilator makes the difference between life and death. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has induced a staggering global shortage in the ventilator-to-patient ratio.
The U.S. government has 170,000 ventilators stockpiled strategically, but experts say this may not be enough if the number of cases continues to increase at its current rate. Cuomo explained his state needs 30,000 ventilators, and so far he has only 7,000. Cuomo has been vocal in demanding the federal government prioritize his state’s needs, but the federal government has more than one state to think about.
A ventilator is a complex medical device that costs $50,000 each on average. The Food and Drug Administration used to have strict oversight on which company is permitted to manufacture ventilators. Given the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and increasing demand for the devices, however, the FDA relaxed its rules on the manufacture and use of ventilators on March 22. It also published a guideline the same day that offers “a streamlined path to market for automakers and other non-medtech manufacturers that want to repurpose their plants to supply ventilators.”
Some lawmakers and health-care professionals wanted the federal government to push further. They urged President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act to require American companies currently in the non-medical devices sector to start producing ventilators immediately. Cuomo even wanted the president to nationalize the medical supply chain. Trump resisted such calls; numerous American companies had already leaped to action before the FDA changed its guidelines. Compelling American companies through stringent government orders would only hinder progress, not further it.
The Private Sector Is Stepping Up
Last week, medical device-maker Madtronic as well as automaker Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk both tweeted that the two corporations were discussing how to work together in the light of the pandemic. Furthermore, General Motors and medical equipment company Ventec Life Systems also announced their joint partnership, under the name “Project V,” with the goal of speeding up the production of ventilators to “support our country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
GM adds great value by using its vast supply network to secure critical materials and even build certain parts for Ventec’s ventilators. Ventec CEO Chris Kiple elaborated on the cooperation in a statement: “[W]ith GM’s help, Ventec will increase ventilator production. By tapping their expertise, GM is enabling us to get more ventilators to more hospitals much faster. This partnership will help save lives.”
After the FDA relaxed its guidance Sunday, Trump tweeted, “Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST! Go for it auto execs, lets see how good you are?”
After the president’s tweet, Ford announced it would work with GE Healthcare to “expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator,” and “these ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location.” Moreover, Ford said it was working with 3M to develop air-purifying respirators to meet the demand for first responders and health-care workers. Along with the cooperation of United Auto Workers, Ford will also “assemble more than 100,000 critically needed plastic face shields per week at a Ford manufacturing site to help medical professionals, factory workers and store clerks.”
Besides large auto companies, other smaller manufacturing companies are taking action. Reuters reported this week that Twin City Die Castings Inc., which makes aluminum and magnesium parts for ventilator compressors, converted its production line to meet the higher demand of ventilators. Such conversion usually takes three months, but Twin City’s employees completed the conversion in just one week by working almost nonstop. Twin City also said it would “share its intellectual property with rivals” so more companies can speed up the production process.
Creative Mask Production
Besides ventilators, masks and surgical gowns are also in short supply. Fiat Chrysler said it would convert one of its plants in China to make face masks, hoping to ramp up production to 1 million face masks a month.
Some U.S. fashion brands have retooled their production to meet these needs. Los Angeles Apparel has been producing thousands of face masks each week for about a month now, and the company said it had donated more than 10,000 masks to hospitals in California, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Washington.
Former “Project Runway” winner and current host Christian Siriano is known for making fancy gowns for the rich and famous. Now, he is changing his manufacturing process and seeking the FDA’s approval to make surgical masks.
Boosting Coronavirus Testing Efforts
The United States is ramping up Wuhan coronavirus testing. Still, in some areas, testing is highly restricted, and our understanding of how the virus infects different demographics is limited. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mastercard’s Impact Fund, and the British philanthropy Wellcome Trust jointly committed $125 million to develop a COVID-19 therapeutics accelerator, hoping to “speed-up the response to the COVID-19 epidemic by identifying, assessing, developing, and scaling-up treatments.”
On another note, the Gates Foundation launched a separate project early in March to develop at-home coronavirus test kits. This week, Amazon Care, a medical division for Amazon’s employees, said it would deliver the test kits to residents in Washington’s King County who feel sick, and would pick up the kits for analysis at the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN), a private-and-public joint research project.
Drugstore chain CVS opened a drive-through testing site on its parking lot for first responders in Massachusetts. Walmart and Walgreens promised to open similar mobile testing sites soon in Chicago.
Capitalism Saves the Day
I also want to give a shout out to grocery stores such as Kroger, King Soopers, and Sprouts. Other than a few items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the management teams and employees have been keeping these grocery stores well-stocked.
Last time I was at King Soopers, a smiling employee was wiping down shopping carts. There were plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, and some were even on sale. As more and more places are under lockdown, neighborhood grocery stores are usually one of the few “essential” places that remain open. A well-stocked grocery store not only ensures many do not have to worry about food shortages during quarantine, but it also provides immense psychological benefits by calming nerves and reassuring residents everything will be OK.
I can go on and on with stories such as these. Socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders wants us to believe our country is a dog-eat-dog world where only a few prosper while the rest struggle, that American billionaires shouldn’t exist, and that American corporations are all uniformly greedy and corrupt. Sanders wants the American people to give more power to the government because he believes it is the only way they will be taken care of.
Yet as Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel points out, in this fight against the pandemic, “the single biggest mistake so far came from the government. The feds maintained exclusive control over early test development — and blew it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s failure delayed an effective U.S. response, and the private sector is now riding to the rescue.”
Strassel is right: The coronavirus pandemic vindicates capitalism. If we want to win this war against the pandemic, we need to count more on American entrepreneurs and businesses for their ingenuity, creativity, and patriotism.