Gabi Beltram Editor-In-Chief, The Pawprint
Elon Musk’s journey to aiding his country during this outbreak has been a bit of a rocky one so far. He started out as one of the Covid-19 non-believers, earlier dismissing the fears over the virus as “dumb”, as well as spreading misinformation about the virus;
Only to later anounce the transformation of a Tesla factory to make ventilators for New York hospitals.
But this promise has also turned out to be misleading as New York leaders revealled the factories will only be making a single part of the ventilator which won’t be ready for the apex of virus in New York.
“They are talking about making one part of the ventilator,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Governor Andrew Cuomo. “They are trying to ramp up to get up and running as soon as possible, but nothing has materialized yet.”
When asked about Tesla’s production, Mayor Byron Brown said “Tesla has announced that they would start to make components for ventilators at the gigafactory at South Buffalo here in the City of Buffalo. I do not know if that production has begun yet,” he said at a news conference on the 4th.
But the actual production of this is clouded in uncertainties. Buffalo, New York’s NBC-affiliate news station 2WGRZ On Your Side recently reported that “On Friday, 2nd [April] On Your Side’s Nate Benson stopped by the facility and from a safe distance apart, asked employees if ventilator production was taking place. One person simply shrugged when asked.“
Ventilators help Covid patients who develop trouble breathing (a symptom of the virus), they administer various concentrations of oxygen to keep the patient alive and breathing. The potential for respiratory failure has increased due to Covid related lung infections, making these machines and the professionals that operate them, that much more priceless.
Musk pledged to donate 1,000+ ‘FDA Approved’ ventilators – which would greatly help those in need, but amongst a worldwide shortage people questioned how he procured such ventilators when it seems like everyone is facing a shortage.
So far only 40 ventilators have been donated. The ventilators he donated are BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) machines which are typically for home use to treat sleep apnea. BiPAP and CPAP machines aren’t even referred to as ventilators. What he’s donated is not powerful enough to be used in the ICU- the place which needs them the most.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists on February 23rd issued guidance warning that CPAP and BiPAP machines “may increase the risk of infectious transmission”. This guidance has been issued with information learned from the previous SARS epidemic.
These machines also put medical workers at greater risk; “Some of the greatest risk arose when doctors and nurses were exposed to aerosolized virus through the use of positive airway pressure machines or other respiratory therapy devices.” To put it in perspective the machines he donated are priced around $800 whilst the ventilators needed can cost up to $50,000.
Actual ventilators work by pushing air into and out of the lungs via intubation. CPAPs use high pressure to push air in through a face mask, and BiPAPs work similarly but are bilevel versions which push air in but then lower the pressure so the air can be exhaled. The main problem is how the air is inhaled and exhaled by the patient. The breathing tube makes ventilators operate as a closed system with a filter that traps pathogens. CPAPs and BiPAPs however, both use face masks which allow air to escape, effectively pumping the virus into the surroundings, potentially infecting other patients, caregivers, etc. The CPAP and BiPAP machines can potentially be used but only after heavy modification and even then they may not be as effective as hoped.
The debate about whether these machines will actually be useful continues but so far only those benefiting from the publicity and/or monetary support of celebrities have spoken of the usefulness of these machines whilst many medical professionals accustomed to the actual ventilators needed have spoken against the use of CPAP and BiPAP machines. The FDA has issued an emergency announcement saying CPAP and BiPAP machines can be used as alternate devices for the virus but can the FDA’s announcement be contested by frontline medical workers who deal with this daily?