President Donald Trump has issued a Defence Production Act order to force General Motors to produce ventilators for coronavirus patients.
Mr Trump said negotiations with General Motors had been productive, “but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course”.
The president, who had previously been reluctant to use the act, said “GM was wasting time” and that his actions will help ensure the quick production of ventilators to help save American lives.
GM has re-purposed its auto electronics plant in Kokomo, Indiana to make the machines.
However experts say that no matter how many ventilators companies can crank out, it may not be enough to cover the entire need, and it may not come in time to help areas now being hit hard with critical virus cases.
US hospitals currently have about 65,000 ventilators fully capable of treating severe coronavirus patients.
But some estimates suggest around 960,000 people in the US will need to be on ventilators at one point or another during the crisis.
In the most severe cases, the coronavirus damages healthy tissue in the lungs, making it hard for them to deliver oxygen to the blood.
Pneumonia can develop, along with a more severe and potentially deadly condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome, which can damage other organs.
GM said Friday it could build 10,000 ventilators per month starting in April with potential to make even more.
After Mr Trump invoked the act, GM said in a statement that it has been working around the clock for more than a week to build more ventilators.
The president invoked the Defence Production Act soon after a series of tweets on Friday attacking GM and CEO Mary Barra.
He also cajoled Ford to build ventilators fast. Ford responded that it is “pulling out all the stops”.
It was a dramatic shift in tone from the night before, when the president told Fox News that pleas by hospitals for more ventilators are exaggerated.
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said.
I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Mr Trump continued.
“You know, you’re going to major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, ‘can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been pleading for 30,000 more ventilators to handle an expected surge in critical virus patients during the next three weeks.
US Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said her state is facing a critical need for ventilators.
Michigan has gone from three coronavirus deaths a week ago to a total of 92 on Friday.
“I think we need to let the scientists and the doctors tell us what we need and not people without medical degrees or the background,” she said.