Fact check: Does New York have a stockpile of thousands of unneeded ventilators?

The claim: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo admitted the state has thousands of ventilators in stockpile, despite requesting more from the federal government

How many ventilators are available and needed in New York has become a fierce topic of debate as demand rises amid the state’s worsening coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Thousand of Federal Government (delivered) Ventilators found in New York storage. N.Y. must distribute NOW!”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to the claim that day, saying, “Yes, they’re in a stockpile because that’s where the supposed to be because we don’t need them yet. We need them for the apex.”

The governor’s comments circulated in several media outlets, including in a Breitbart News story headlined “Gov. Cuomo Admits Stockpile Of Thousands Of Unused Ventilators,” which gained significant traction on social media. Red State Observer reposted the piece, as well.

In an interview with Fox News earlier last week, Vice President Mike Pence said the federal government had sent 2,000 ventilators and was sending another 2,000 as of last week. Those additional units would be on top of New York’s stockpile of ventilators.

New York’s ventilator stockpile and pandemic preparedness

Neither the White House nor the New York Governor’s Mansion disagrees that the state has thousands of ventilators in stockpile. The implication that these machines are thus unnecessary or that New York had enough ventilators to weather the crisis without an increased supply, however, is misleading.

Cuomo panned Trump’s assertion on Twitter that New York had thousands of unused ventilators that needed to be distributed "now!" as “incorrect and grossly uninformed."

It is unclear how severe the coronavirus pandemic will become in the United States. The number of cases continues to rise across the country, worrying both policymakers and experts that the health care system will not be able to handle the most severe projections.

Right now, there are 6,500 ventilators deployed in downstate New York, according to the John Bruno, the Director of Public Information for the NYS Department of Health.

"An additional 4,400 have been provided by the federal government," Bruno told USA TODAY, with 2,400 deployed in the New York City and 2,000 allocated for the rest of the state. The state still has 800 ventilators in its stockpile; 1,000 machines have already been deployed from the reserve.

"The governor has predicted the peak to occur some time in the next several weeks. When that time arrives, we will ensure that ventilators are distributed among the regions of the state with the greatest need," Bruno said.

“I can tell you, right now, we have enough supplies to get through this week and next week in our hospitals,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told "Good Morning America" on Friday. “That's all I can guarantee you. And after that, unfortunately, we think this crisis is going to grow, through April into May. That's the truth."

"The city has now received 2,500 ventilators promised by the federal government, in response to our request for 15,000 ventilators, and has distributed nearly all of them to hospitals in need," a representative from the New York City Department of Health told USA TODAY.

More:US coronavirus deaths predicted to peak by mid-April if all states impose restrictions

The Society of Critical Care Medicine, a health professional organization, recently pointed to one estimate that projected that nearly a million patients would require ventilation during the COVID-19 outbreak.

A 2015 New York state task force report meant to analyze ventilator supply and allocation also found that while the state had enough ventilators to address peak supply in a moderate flu pandemic scenario, a severe pandemic like the 1918 flu would outstrip the state’s capacity.

“Well, look, I don’t have a crystal ball. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, but I don’t operate here on opinion. I operate on facts and on data and on numbers and on projections,” Cuomo said during his Friday remarks.

“I hope we don’t need 30,000 ventilators. I hope some natural weather change happens overnight and kills the virus globally. That’s what I hope, but that’s my hope. That’s my emotion. That’s my thought. The numbers say you may need 30,000."

Fact check:Did NY pass on buying ventilators to fund tuition for undocumented immigrants?

Officials are also concerned that the increased need for ventilators may encounter challenges other than raw supply of machines. A lack of medical professionals to operate machines, as well as a shortage of other critical medical supplies, further complicates coordinated pandemic response at all levels of government.

More:Hospitals may run low on staff to run ventilators for coronavirus patients

Our ruling: Partly false

While it is true that New York maintains a stockpile of ventilators not in use, it is incorrect that these machines are unneeded. The current number of ventilators deployed in the state are enough to meet the increased challenge that COVID-19 poses to the health care system. That said, health care professionals fear that the increasing number of cases could quickly overwhelm the system. Current stockpiles are meant to address that future need, though projections vary on whether that supply with be enough. We rate this claim PARTLY FALSE because some of it was not supported by our research.

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A ventilator is displayed during a news conference, Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at the New York City Emergency Management Warehouse, where 400 ventilators have arrived and will be distributed. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, saying the infection rate in New York is accelerating and the state could be two to three weeks away from a crisis.