Hospitals in the United States are dealing with a ventilator shortage as the novel coronavirus spreads, and countries are starting to ask companies that wouldn't typically produce them to get involved. For example, Britain has enlisted the aerospace and engineering group Rolls-Royce and the vacuum company Dyson to produce ventilators. Here at home, it looks like they might soon be getting ventilators produced by Tesla.
Elon Musk was tweeting out information about the coronavirus on Monday, and on Wednesday a Twitter user who identified themselves as a Tesla owner pleaded with Musk to have Tesla start producing ventilators to help hospitals deal with the outbreak. Musk responded Wednesday night that Tesla will start producing ventilators "if there is a shortage."
As many users pointed out, there does appear to be a shortage. The editor-in-chief of the news website FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver responded to Musk by saying there is a shortage and asking Musk how many ventilators Tesla would produce. Musk responded by pointing out that Tesla makes "sophisticated hvac systems" and that SpaceX makes "spacecraft with life support systems," so he said making ventilators wouldn't be difficult. Musk then asked which hospitals needed ventilators.
Early on Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted at Musk saying New York City would buy ventilators if Tesla started producing them. Musk responded by saying his team would be in touch.
New York has the most coronavirus cases in the U.S., with over 4,000 cases thus far. In terms of deaths from the virus, Washington state has the most, with 163 deaths, but New York is in a (distant) second place with 21 deaths.
The number of coronavirus infections in the United States continues to increase by the day, and the Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates nearly a million ventilators may be needed overall. At this time, the U.S. only has around 200,000 ventilators available. If companies like Tesla start producing ventilators now, we might be able to meet the demand we're likely going to end up seeing.
This isn't the first time Musk has offered to use his private companies to help with an emergency. Musk famously had a “kid-sized submarine" built to help rescue a Thai soccer team that got trapped in a cave in 2018, but it didn't end up being used, and he ended up in a legal battle over him calling British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth a “pedo guy.”
Musk also offered to help address the Flint water crisis in 2018, and he ended up donating around half a million dollars toward installing new water filtration systems in the city's schools. You could argue a multibillionaire like him could have done more, but most ultra-wealthy people didn't do anything, so he gets some credit.
It remains to be seen if Tesla will start producing ventilators to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak, but with at least one mayor apparently in contact with his team, it looks like this idea has some momentum. One thing we know is those ventilators would probably look pretty cool.
The Inverse analysis
It's hard to think of a more idiosyncratic and puzzling figure in American life than Elon Musk. He's truly a brilliant innovator and a smart businessman, but he's also sometimes his own worst enemy. As we've stated before, his Twitter account is often fun and insightful but can also be his worst enemy. Tesla getting into producing ventilators would be fantastic because, as Musk noted, the company has the perfect expertise for producing high-quality ventilators. Based on his tweets, Musk himself seems to think people are panicking about the coronavirus more than they should, but he seems to understand that he can help fight it anyway by producing this crucial medical equipment.