After weeks of finding new ways to embarrass himself in the coronavirus news cycle - most recently taking a stab at doctors and saying they were too "scared" to help coronavirus patients - Elon Musk has opened up a new chapter in both virtue signalling and public humiliation as it relates to the ongoing global pandemic.
As a reminder, we have been reluctantly covering Musk's "bizarre" actions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic: First, he called the panic around the virus "dumb". Then, Musk came out and said kids were "essentially immune" to the virus despite the fact that there have been numerous reports of teenagers "fighting for their lives" on ventilators and passing away from the virus (source and source).
Then, Musk went to battle with Alameda County about keeping his Fremont factory open, all the while Tesla and SpaceX employees were contracting the coronavirus.
One has to exhale and ask, "What could possibly be next?"
Well, how about saying you're going to donate ventilators in a half-hearted effort to try and end the PR fiasco hanging above your head, and then donating a bunch of sleep apnea machines instead?
Musk proclaimed on March 23 that he bought "1255 FDA-approved ResMed, Philips & Medtronic ventilators on Friday night and airshipped them to LA".
A couple of days later, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio was publicly thanking Musk for “donating hundreds of ventilators to New York City and State, including our public hospitals”. de Blasio said he was “deeply grateful”.
Then, yesterday, the NYC Health and Hospitals system Tweeted out a photograph of "40 ventilators" that were donated by Tesla to a hospital in queens. Many of the boxes sport a "ResMed" logo and printed out sheets of paper with the Tesla logo on them.
But then, a bit of reality sank in and the FT pointed out some "peculiar" items of note about these boxes. First is the fact that sitting on top of the boxes is a Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure, also called a “BiPAP” machine, which is used to treat sleep apnea. While these machines are sometimes referred to as “non-invasive ventilators”, these are not the ventilators that are commonly used in intensive care units for coronavirus.
In fact, it turns out that these machines may make things worse for coronavirus patients. As FT noted, The American Society of Anesthesiologists on February 23 issued guidance warning that CPAP and BPAP machines “may increase the risk of infectious transmission”.
Russ Mitchell of the LA Times put out a Tweet thread yesterday, stating that: "The head of Resmed medical device maker appeared on Cramer today and said the 1000 machines Musk said he would be donating were five-year old Resmed BiPap breathing devices, usually used to treat sleep apnea, which I presume were bought in bulk at deep discount."
"BiPap devices are not the high-end highly desired invasive ventilators that hospitals so desperately need. (GM and Ford have partnered up with ventillator makers to manufacture these)," he continued.
Musk, meanwhile, continued to refer to these machines as "FDA approved", because the FDA recently adopted an emergency policy that allowed these machines to be used - instead of actual ventilators - in the event of a shortage. When FT reached out to ResMed's CEO, Mick Farrell, he put on his best PR hat and claimed that these machines could be used to fight Covid-19, stating:
The bilevels featured in Tesla’s tweet are built on the same platform as our S9 CPAP machines for sleep apnea but deliver non-invasive ventilation that can be beneficial to many COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe while trying to fight off this virus. We have seen large numbers of patients in China and across Europe that have been treated with non-invasive ventilation via bilevel devices.
... before confirming to FT that the machines Musk purchased were, in fact, sleep apnea machines:
We think it’s great that Tesla purchased bilevel non-invasive ventilators from a platform of ours that we developed five years ago in Asia and sent them to New York. We applaud any company who can help get ventilators and other respiratory products to those in need.