Elon Musk in Twitter spat with California governor, CNN over ventilators claim

Sven Gustafson
·3-min read

UPDATE: California Gov. Gavin Newsom late Thursday said he was not aware that the devices Musk had donated had made it to several hospitals and added, "I look forward to learning more about where they went and I’m grateful for his support.”


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For a guy running an electric vehicle company currently valued north of $130 billion, Elon Musk has been incredibly busy on Twitter in the last 24 hours. There, in-between a flurry of posts about Autopilot updates, SpaceX and particle physics, the Tesla CEO found time to weigh in on the wisdom of intubation for coronavirus patients and respond to reports that no hospitals in California have received any of the ventilators he promised to donate.

Musk said more than three weeks ago on Twitter that he had bought more than 1,000 FDA-approved ventilators and was shipping them to Los Angeles. His promise was echoed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who later said the units had arrived in L.A. and called it “a heroic effort.”

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Newsom’s office now says Musk was supposed to deliver them directly to hospitals, but none have received any.

“The Administration is communicating every day with hospitals across the state about their ventilator supply and to date we have not heard of any hospital system that has received a ventilator directly from Tesla or Musk,” a spokesperson for the governor’s Office of Emergency Services told CNN. The news was first reported by the Sacramento Bee.

That led to a string of responses from Musk, who retweeted photos of hospital employees posing in front of the shipments and a screenshot of an email thread between a Tesla employee and public health official in L.A. County. Musk tweeted to Newsom’s Twitter account to “please fix this misunderstanding,” and to CNNs, “What I find most surprising is that CNN still exists.”

Neither Tesla nor Newsom’s office responded to requests for comment from Autoblog.

Musk has had a controversial public record on COVID-19 from the onset, suggesting early on that the coronavirus would be comparable to other forms of the common cold and famously, in early March, that “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California initially continued production despite a sweeping “shelter in place” order by local officials and a direct order by local authorities before finally shutting down in late March.

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It may all be down to a technicality. Rather than shipping actual ventilators, the Financial Times reports that Musk appears to have shipped, in boxes bearing large red Tesla labels, a Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure, or BPAP, machine, which is used to treat sleep apnea. They’re designed to deliver oxygen to the lungs via a mask or nasal plugs that a patient wears at night, unlike an intensive care unit-grade ventilator, which uses a tube inserted down a patient’s throat for severely affected patients. FT also notes that the FDA recently authorized the use of alternative, non-invasive devices such as CPAP machines, to treat COVID-19 patients.

As of Wednesday, California had reported 22,424 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 821 deaths.

“The way things are looking right now, the world will soon be flooded with excess ventilators,” Musk tweeted Wednesday. “Even NY is giving them away!”

Tesla has seen its stock value climb after reporting record first-quarter vehicle deliveries and launching the Model Y crossover and making deliveries ahead of schedule.

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