Elon Musk Defends Sending 'Non-Invasive' Ventilators to Hospitals, Says Criticism is from 'Bot Accounts'

Elon Musk has responded to criticism he received after sending non-invasive breathing aids to New York, which some noted could not be used to treat severe COVID-19 cases.

The Tesla boss previously pledged to send ventilators to U.S. hospitals and healthcare facilities amid growing fears that supplies in some states were limited. Last month, Musk wrote on Twitter that more than 1,255 FDA-approved devices had been acquired from China and quickly flown into California.

But a tweet about a new delivery to NYC Health + Hospitals raised concern this week after an image appeared to show ResMed-made Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machines and not the more invasive form of aid needed to treat patients with life-threatening respiratory problems.

As reported by the Financial Times, BiPAP machines are similar in design to the common non-invasive Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices — helping a patient to breath but not delivering oxygen straight to the lungs.

Musk referenced the criticism on Twitter, where he also confirmed his company had more supplies of the "FDA approved" ventilators that could be shipped to hospitals around the world without charge.

"All hospitals were given exact specifications of Resmed & Philips ventilators before delivery and all confirmed they would be critical," Musk wrote after one supportive Twitter user noted that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had confirmed this week that BiPAP machines were now being converted into the more invasive form of ventilators on the approval of the state's own health department.

Special thanks to @Tesla for a donation of 40 ventilators to our team at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst #inQueens. These will be essential in the fight against the #coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/X3EwUxGFMl

— NYC Health + Hospitals (@NYCHealthSystem) March 31, 2020

"Weird that so many troll/bot accounts were activated to attack on this fake issue. Wonder who's behind it," Musk added, noting that invasive ventilators are only for the "worst case patients."

"Survival rate at that point is low, as Gov Cuomo has pointed out," Musk added. "Nonetheless, we start delivery of intratracheal Medtronic units in NYC tonight."

Musk had faced criticism from some commenters online after it surfaced that the ventilators being sent to some U.S. hospitals could not help treat severe COVID-19 infections. But Musk said in a later post that it was still important to provide the BiPAP and CPAP-style devices to prevent those cases from becoming worse. "Once severe (intratracheal intubation), survival rates are low," he reiterated.

David Reich, Chief Operating Officer at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, thanked Tesla for a delivery of the ResMed machines. He said they were converted to be "critical care-capable."

Weird that so many troll/bot accounts were activated to attack on this fake issue. Wonder who’s behind it.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 2, 2020

Announcing the ventilator conversion project yesterday, Gov. Cuomo said the state had purchased 3,000 BiPAP machines from Philips in Pittsburgh, and 750 had arrived and were being distributed to hospitals. The remainder of the order is expected to arrive within two weeks.

"Ventilators remain our most significant challenge, and today the State Department of Health has approved protocols that will allow us to use BiPAP machines as ventilators, and we have already acquired 3,000 of these machines to be deployed to hospitals with the greatest need," he said.

The governor confirmed there has been at least 92,381 confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York State. In the U.S., the disease has infected more than 245,500 people.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of modified non-invasive breathing aids as ventilators for emergencies during the outbreak last month, Fierce Biotech reported.

But as noted by NPR, The American Society of Anesthesiologists warned in guidance published on February 23 that BiPAP machines may actually "increase the risk of infectious transmission." Experts have said the non-invasive devices can let air escape, resulting in potential virus spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website that COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets "produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks."

Earlier this week, ResMed CEO Michael Farrell praised Musk's ongoing efforts during an interview with CNBC. "I think it's great what Elon did," Farrell said. "He... bought what I would call bi-level, non-invasive ventilators from a platform of ours from 5 years ago, from Asia, and brought 1,000 of them over to New York... If there's product out there and you can move that for us, that's fantastic."

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
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Medical advice

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  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
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  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks.
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  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • COVID-19 can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
Elon Musk
Elon Musk speaks at the 2020 Satellite Conference and Exhibition March 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty