One of the major concerns about the coronavirus outbreak is that if enough people become infected with COVID-19—which affects the respiratory system—that hospitals will run out of ventilators. This could mean doctors would have to choose who lives and who dies if two patients need the same machine.
However, Elon Musk now says that he will be willing to make more “if there is a shortage.” He explained on Twitter, “Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly.”
Tesla makes cars with sophisticated hvac systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 19, 2020
He is right that his companies SpaceX and Tesla make highly sophisticated machines, but there is also some reason for skepticism. It was only two weeks ago that Musk tweeted “The coronavirus panic is dumb”, long after experts had sounded the alarm about an impending crisis.
There’s also the infamous Thai cave rescue debacle of 2018. After a rescue diver in charge of freeing children who’d accidentally gotten stuck in a dangerous, underwater cave called Musk’s plan to invent a submarine to do the job impractical, Musk got sued for calling him a “pedo guy”. In the lawsuit case—which Musk ended up winning—the eccentric inventor was called “a thin-skinned billionaire who is obsessed with his public image and who has a history of vindictively and intentionally ignoring truth to maintain that PR-created image.”
All this in addition to the fact that Musk once promised to help fix the water situation in Flint, Michigan for “any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels.” That turned out to be a bit of an exaggeration, though Musk did eventually donate $500,000 to Flint Community Schools.
And there’s also the fact that, internationally, there already is a shortage in ventilators as coronavirus cases continue to grow. The fact that Musk is asking Nate Silver where the ventilator shortages are isn’t a great sign.
However, if Musk can deliver on the promise, the implications could be lifesaving for countless patients.