Donald Trump has suggested hospital workers in New York of stealing and possibly selling face masks “out the back door” during an astounding press conference on Sunday evening.
Standing in the White House’s Rose Garden the president asked reporters to look into the supposed illegal activity but provided no evidence to back up his claims aside from increased demand for supplies from hospitals swamped by the coronavirus pandemic.
“For years [suppliers] have been delivering ten to twenty thousand masks. OK, it’s a New York hospital and it’s packed all the time but how do you go from ten to twenty thousand to 300,000?”
“Something’s going on and you ought to look into it as reporters.
“Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? And we have that in a lot of different places so somebody should probably look into that because I just don’t see from a practical standpoint how that’s possible.”
New York state is rapidly becoming the new global epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. There are currently 8,500 people hospitalised in the state including 2,000 in intensive care.
Deaths in New York state increased by 237 in the past day alone, reaching a total of 965.
As for masks, they are single use and New York-Presbyterian Hospital for instance employs 20,000 people.
Just seconds before Trump’s comments, a businessman involved in the production of face masks explained he was trying to produce “forty to fifty million” extra face masks to deal with the crisis in the US.
He added: “Even with a significant ramp up in supply, there is still that demand that is much greater than that supply.”
He made no mention of hoarding, stealing or selling of face masks yet Trump said some of his clients “could well be in trouble” over the supposed disappearing of them.
Asked by a reporter to explain his comments more fully, Trump said: “I don’t think it’s hoarding, I think it’s worse than hoarding.”
He added: “I don’t know, I don’t know, I think that’s for other people to check out.”
Also on Sunday, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated in an interview with CNN that the pandemic could cause between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths in the United States.
New York, New Orleans and other major cities have pleaded to the Trump administration for more medical supplies and Reuters has documented healthcare workers hiding supplies such as face masks from colleagues in other departments as there is a chronic shortage despite the vast numbers being delivered.
Earlier on Sunday Trump also accused hospitals of hoarding ventilators but did not cite any evidence to back his accusation.
Critics have accused him of trying to deflect blame over his handling of the crisis.