WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Wednesday that it was sending 200 ventilators and 100 nasal breathing machines to Florida, where more than 10,000 people are hospitalized with coronavirus-related illnesses.
Asked about the shipment on Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested that it had not taken place. “I would honestly doubt that that’s true, but I’ll look,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff that we stockpiled over the last year and a half through the department of emergency management. I have not had any requests across my desk. I haven’t been notified of that.”
A spokesperson for HHS told Yahoo News that the Biden administration was, in fact, sending supplies to Florida. “The Strategic National Stockpile deployed 200 ventilators, 100 high-flow nasal cannula kits and related ancillary supplies to Florida earlier this week,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
It was not immediately clear whether a looming shortage or an abundance of caution precipitated the request. DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said the request was routine and properly made. “Hospitals were monitoring the rise in cases and decided to request ventilators to be as prepared as possible,” she wrote to Yahoo News in a text message.
“They didn’t need to go through us for this, which is why we weren’t even aware of the request,” Pushaw added.
On Tuesday the Florida Hospital Association reported that the state’s hospitals were now treating 14,787 coronavirus patients; that number represents 145 percent of the previous peak, reached during last summer’s surge. Nearly 90 percent of the state’s intensive care unit beds are occupied.
“This new delta variant is extremely infectious and leading to 25 and 35 year olds hospitalized for COVID,” FHA president Mary Mayhew said in a statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the ventilator shipment during a Wednesday briefing. “As a policy, we don’t send ventilators to states without their interest in receiving those ventilators,” she said, declining to speculate whether that shipment could have taken place without DeSantis’s knowledge.
DeSantis has been in a standoff with the White House over mask mandates and other aspects of the pandemic response. Last week the White House told DeSantis and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to “get out of the way” unless they were willing to take appropriate public health measures. DeSantis shot back by blaming the recent surge on Biden, telling the president that he didn’t want to “hear a blip” from him on the coronavirus.
Initial news of the ventilator shipment was taken by some as a sign that the crisis in Florida was much more severe than DeSantis was claiming. Only severely ill COVID-19 patients tend to require mechanized breathing help. But after the governor said he didn’t know about the shipment, conservative news outlets appeared to endorse his version of events.
In recent months DeSantis has become a favorite of Trump loyalists for his hands-off approach to the pandemic.
The governor has also been involved in a social media back-and-forth with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the past weekend’s infection counts. The CDC initially said there were 28,317 new cases on Sunday, but the Florida Department of Health disputed that number, saying it was actually a three-day aggregate.
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