At a White House coronavirus pandemic press briefing on Sunday, Donald Trump noted that while a typical New York hospital may use about 20,000 surgical masks per week, they now say they need 300,000 such masks on a weekly basis. Trump then suggested that the increased need was the result of some kind of suspicious activity taking place in New York hospitals with regard to the masks, which serve as crucial protective gear for health care workers treating coronavirus patients.
"Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door?" Trump wondered aloud, telling reporters assembled on the White House lawn that they should look into the increased demand for the masks. When a reporter asked Trump if he was suggesting that something inappropriate was being done with the additional masks, Trump replied, "there's something going on," as quoted by Mediaite.
"I think it's maybe worse than hoarding," Trump speculated, before appearing to backtrack somewhat by saying that he did not know what was going on with the masks, and that the answer was "for other people to figure out."
Experts say that there is no mystery behind the sharp increase in demand for protective masks. Due to the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, which is transmitted largely through droplets expelled through the mouth of a virus-carrier, health care workers must wear a mask at all times, and change masks after treating each individual patient to maintain their own safety, and the safety of the patients, according to Mediaite.
The shortages of masks in New York are not unusual during the coronavirus crisis. As The Washington Post reported, cities and hospitals in locations across the U.S. have been experiencing similar shortages as the pandemic rolls on.
A survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors showed that shortages of surgical masks and other essential medical and protective equipment "has reached crisis proportions," and that there was "little variation between large and small cities," with hospitals in municipalities of all sizes reporting severe shortages.
Though the U.S. is now suffering from the shortages of masks and other supplies, in February, as the coronavirus outbreak was killing hundreds in China, the Trump administration shipped 17.8 tons of medical supplies and protective gear to that country.
In the Sunday press briefing, Trump also, for the first time, publicly backed off from his declaration earlier in the week that the U.S. was "near the end" of the battle against coronavirus, and that many social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions could be lifted by Easter Sunday, April 12.
At the briefing, Trump announced that the federal government social distancing guidelines, set to expire on Monday, would be extended until April 30.
"Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won," Trump said, as quoted by USA Today.