A new report indicates that New York City auctioned off its emergency stockpile of 500 ventilators several years ago, thanks to budget cuts and attention to other priorities.
The story, reported by ProPublica on Monday, echoes a similar report by the Los Angeles Times last week about California’s stockpile. In both cases, Republican leaders built up emergency supplies, which were later cut for budgetary reasons.
It is a reminder that the nation’s struggle with coronavirus had bipartisan origins.
The similarities between the New York City and California cases are striking. The Times reported that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, worried about recent pandemics in Asia, and noting the political fallout of Hurricane Katrina for President George W. Bush, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in ventilators, masks, and mobile hospitals.
Similarly, and at the same time, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg prepared a stockpile for use in case of a pandemic.
In July 2006, with an aggressive and novel strain of the flu circulating in Asia and the Middle East, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a sweeping pandemic preparedness plan.
Using computer models to calculate how a disease could spread rapidly through the city’s five boroughs, experts concluded New York needed a substantial stockpile of both masks and ventilators. If the city confronted a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Spanish flu, the experts found, it would face a “projected shortfall of between 2,036 and 9,454 ventilators.”
The city’s department of health, working with the state, was to begin purchasing ventilators and to “stockpile a supply of facemasks,” according to the report. Shortly after it was released, Bloomberg held a pandemic planning summit with top federal officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the face of the national coronavirus response.
In the end, the alarming predictions failed to spur action. In the months that followed, the city acquired just 500 additional ventilators as the effort to create a larger stockpile fizzled amid budget cuts.
Even those extra ventilators are long gone, the health department said on Sunday. The lifesaving devices broke down over time and were auctioned off by the city at least five years ago because the agency couldn’t afford to maintain them.
Ironically, ProPublica adds, the experience of the H1N1 swine flu in 2009 lulled the city into a false sense of security, because it turned out to be far less destructive than had been initially feared.
USA Today confirmed last week that the Obama administration depleted the national stockpile of respirator masks and other supplies during the H1N1 outbreak, but never restored it.
President Donald Trump has faced criticism as states have struggled to obtain emergency supplies in the coronavirus outbreak.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.