Sen. Cruz to HHS: ‘Time Is of the Essence’ to Ensure Hospitals, Health Care Facilities Have Ventilators Critical to Treating COVID-19

Urges HHS Sec. Azar to use ‘significant powers of the Defense Production Act’ to immediately address scarcity of life-saving medical equipment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar urging him to immediately use the powers delegated to him by President Trump to order the production and distribution of ventilators, which are critical to treating individuals infected by COVID-19.

As Sen. Cruz wrote:

“On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) and delegating authority to you, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to order the production and distribution of healthcare supplies needed to protect Americans against COVID-19. I urge you to exercise these delegated powers to the fullest extent necessary to ensure that healthcare facilities across the country have the ventilators they need to treat all patients who become critically ill with this virus.”

Warning that doctors in Italy, where the coronavirus death toll has exceeded 3,400 people, are being forced to turn away patients because they do not have enough ventilators to meet the growing demand, Sen. Cruz added:

“Without more ventilators (and workers to operate them), hospitals will soon be unable to provide these life-saving machines to a number of their critically ill patients, and doctors will have to make life-or-death decisions about who needs the machines most.”

Sen. Cruz noted the U.S. could expect as many at 810,000 infected patients to require a ventilator – hundreds of thousands more than the nation’s existing inventory of ventilators. He concluded:

“In this moment you should not hesitate to use the significant powers of the Defense Production Act delegated to you by the President to do what is necessary to ensure that Americans who contract this virus are not denied life-saving care because hospitals lack the appropriate machinery. Time is of the essence.”

This call to action is a part of the four-part, all-hands-on-deck approach Sen. Cruz outlined last week to stop the spread of this global pandemic and protect human life by:

  • Making testing more accurate and widely available.
  • Ensuring we have enough of the essential medical supplies for first responders and health care professionals,
  • Creating more capacity and providing critical resources for hospitals and medical facilities.
  • Work quickly to develop and approve vaccines and cures.

Sen. Cruz also introduced three pieces of legislation yesterday focused on increasing access to healthcare and expediting the approval for vaccines and treatments already approved in other countries.

Read the full letter below:

March 20, 2020

Secretary Alex Azar

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Azar:

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950 (DPA) and delegating authority to you, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to order the production and distribution of healthcare supplies needed to protect Americans against COVID-19. I urge you to exercise these delegated powers to the fullest extent necessary to ensure that healthcare facilities across the country have the ventilators they need to treat all patients who become critically ill with this virus.

This pandemic threatens to overrun this nation’s healthcare resources. Approximately a week ago, the CDC considered a range of scenarios and estimated that between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected with COVID-19 over the course of this pandemic.[1] This, in turn, according to the CDC, could result in between 2.4 million to 21 million people in the United States requiring hospitalization.[2]

Because COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease that compromises an individual’s ability to breath, some of the most critical patients with this virus may need access to a ventilator—a small machine that delivers air to the lungs through a tube placed in the windpipe—to survive. While it is uncertain how many people will need access to ventilators, the Wall Street Journal reported that “[a]s many as 810,000 U.S. coronavirus patients could need [them] by the end of May.”[3]

There are, however, only approximately 62,000 full-featured mechanical ventilators in the United States, and another 98,000 ventilators that could “provide basic function in an emergency during crisis standards of care.”[4] Without more ventilators (and workers to operate them), hospitals will soon be unable to provide these life-saving machines to a number of their critically ill patients, and doctors will have to make life-or-death decisions about who needs the machines most. As doctors in Italy recently explained, they are now “taking almost no patients older than 70” because “[t]here aren’t enough ventilators to intubate all patients with Covid-19 who have severe breathing trouble.”[5]

Ensuring that our nation’s health care facilities have sufficient ventilators must be a top priority. I applaud your efforts to “coordinate closely with private suppliers [and] health care purchasers . . . to ensure that resources are going where they’re needed,”[6] but in this moment you should not hesitate to use the significant powers of the Defense Production Act delegated to you by the President to do what is necessary to ensure that Americans who contract this virus are not denied life-saving care because hospitals lack the appropriate machinery. Time is of the essence.

Sincerely,

/s/

###

[1] Shri Fink, Worst-Case Estimates for U.S. Cornovirus DeathsNew York Times, Mar. 13, 2020,  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/us/coronavirus-deaths-estimate.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Peter Loftus, Ventilator Makers Ramp Up Production Amid Coronavirus, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 19, 2010, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ventilator-makers-ramp-up-production-amid-coronavirus-crunch-11584626858.

[4] Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Ventilator Stockpiling and Availability in the U.S., Feb. 14, 2020, http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/resources/COVID-19/200214-VentilatorAvailability-factsheet.pdf.

[5] Marcus Walker & Mark Maremont, Lessons From Italy’s Hospital Meltdown. ‘Every Day You Lose, the Contagion Gets Worse.’ Wall Street Journal, Mar. 19, 2010, https://www.wsj.com/articles/every-day-you-lose-the-contagion-gets-worse-lessons-from-italys-hospital-meltdown-11584455470?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=6&mod=article_inline.

[6] Secretary Azar Statement on President Trump’s Invoking the Defense Production Act (Mar. 19, 2020), https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/03/18/secretary-azar-statement-president-trumps-invoking-defense-production-act.html.