(NEW YORK) — A surgeon who was the first person in New York City to be diagnosed with the Ebola virus in 2014 rejected President Donald Trump’s claim that masks and other protective equipment intended for use in New York hospitals to fight the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, might have been stolen.
Dr. Craig Spencer, the director of global health and emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center is on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight in New York City, which has been considered the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
During a briefing on Monday morning, Trump responded to an account by a mask company executive who said the demand for masks had skyrocketed at one unnamed New York City hospital from between 10,000 and 20,000 masks a week to between 200,000 to 300,000 a week. Trump insinuated that people might be taking masks from the hospital “out the back door.”
“Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places,” Trump said without mentioning any specific examples of hospitals reporting lost masks or ordering large amounts of them.
State officials across the U.S. have criticized the federal government for not providing enough supplies. With shortages, nurses and doctors have resorted to reusing protective equipment, accepting donations, buying their own personal protective equipment (PPE) and other workarounds to keep themselves safe.
The New York Greater Hospital Association and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have since pushed back on Trump’s claims.
Spencer responded to the president’s remarks on The View Thursday.
“I don’t see anyone running off with a ventilator or with masks,” Spencer said. “I see everyone running into the hospital to help out.”
“The only thing that I’ve seen is all of my colleagues, not only at my hospital but all around the city, just stepping up, working extra shifts, doing whatever they can to provide the best patient care,” Spencer continued. “What I’m seeing is people show up and use that personal protective equipment to keep them safe and do everything they can so that they can stay at the frontlines.”
Several states have sounded the alarm over a lack of ventilators for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including a plea from Cuomo for 30,000 machines.
Spencer said “we all have concerns” about the number of ventilators and masks available.
“Health care workers are much more susceptible to this virus,” Spencer said. “We’re doing everything we can to be there and be present every day to stay safe and provide that high-quality care.”
Spencer said the country’s lack of preparedness for a pandemic “is really frustrating.” Although planning for a pandemic is “expensive,” he claimed it would have cost less than the $2 trillion stimulus package Trump signed into law Friday.
“I’m really concerned. Many of us, many of my colleagues, myself included, have written articles in the past couple of years worried about what’s going to happen when we see a pandemic here,” Spencer said. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing that impact.”
When it comes to COVID-19 testing, Spencer said that the fact that so many people are going untested is “a huge issue” and that it can “have an impact in our ability to know how prevalent the disease is; to know how it’s spreading.”
“It really did leave us behind the curve,” he said.
Spencer’s “concern right now” with COVID-19 is that the U.S. “didn’t take it seriously early enough.”
“We were warned by China and we didn’t react. We were warned by Italy and we didn’t really prepare,” Spencer said. “People aren’t taking it serious, even as it starts to spread across the rest of the country.”
“If there’s one message that I can share, it’s that this is really real and it can take anyone down,” Spencer said. “Young or old, no matter where you are, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, it doesn’t care. The only bipartisan thing right now in the country, it seems like, is our susceptibility to getting infected with coronavirus.”
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