Bureaucratic doublespeak doesn’t cut it when the world wants real answers to life and death questions, as Coronavirus Task Force member Seema Verma learned after repeatedly evading the question of whether the U.S. will have enough ventilators in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) to treat a surge of serious coronavirus cases.
Thursday evening, Martha MacCallum of Fox News asked Verma the question four times, and each time the current head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services danced around the issue without addressing it.
An irked Tucker Carlson confronted Verma again on Friday evening and gave the administrator, who is a top member of the White House task force dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, another chance to answer the question.
“I watched that exchange last night, and I must be honest with you, I was really troubled by it,” he told Verma. “Because you were asked a direct question by Martha MacCallum, ‘do we have enough ventilators in ICU units,’ and you appeared to intentionally not answer it, so I’m going to ask you that question again and hope that we will be reassured by the answer. Do we have enough ventilators to treat a surge in cases coronavirus right now, do you believe?”
Verma still did not give any firm assurances or directly provide a yes or no response to the question, but she did at least speak to the ventilator issue.
“We have a stockpile of ventilators,” she replied. “So right now today we are able to address people that need ventilators. Our strategy though is to not make the situation worse, but there is a stockpile of ventilators.”
Presumably, the strategy “to not make the situation worse” means not being transparent about major potential shortcomings that could cause public panic and runs on toilet paper and cleaning products.
“The president talked about ventilators today,” she continued, “and said we’re going to purchase more to make sure that we have that backup supply.”
Carlson pushed harder, asking, “Can you put some meat on those bones and give us a sense of how many ventilators are in place? How many are in the stockpile? How many do you think we will need?”
“That’s a good question,” Verma said. “In terms of numbers, we’re still assessing. We’re still working with hospitals to understand what their needs are. Right now though, I will tell you that we haven’t had hospitals at this point in large numbers saying we need more ventilators. But that situation could change rapidly. We’re trying to make sure that we stay in communication with hospitals, with the health care facilities so we can understand what their needs are.”
Ultimately, Carlson tried again.
Watch Friday’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” interview of Verma here …
Video by Fox News
“You’re confident that if we had a huge uptick in the need for that specific piece of equipment that we could get new ventilators into ICU units quickly?” he offered.
Verma said she didn’t want to make “drastic predictions because this situation is changing every single day.”
She said that the current information available means “we know that we have to be aggressive,” and that the president’s national emergency declaration on Friday gave “a lot more flexibility to the health care system.”
“It’s not just about having supplies. It’s also making sure that they have the flexibility on the front lines, and those are some of the things, those are some of the actions that we are taking to make sure that the health care system is prepared,” she added.
Then came a direct answer …
A more direct answer to the question came when Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, appeared after Verma on Carlson’s show.
“We are terribly, terribly under-prepared for the number of ventilators that will need the circuits, the pieces that connect you to the ventilators,” Osterholm said. “We don’t have nearly enough respirators.”
Osterholm also blasted Verma for being evasive, calling her comments “one of the most incompetent and absolutely incoherent responses” he has heard on the outbreak.
“We’re in a fight against this virus. We don’t have time for double talk,” he declared. “We need straight talk. And I think it’s time that we say what it is, because, you know what? If we start to see situations like Seattle and what might be happening in Ohio and elsewhere as they start to emerge around the country, that is not a time for us to die trying to figure out that all we were talking about was happy talk.”
Video by Fox News
Clearly, the task force members are being challenged with a mission that will not be appreciated by most, since “winning” will still mean Americans will die, just not as many if the group can coordinate a massively effective response.
Carlson closed by telling Verma, “We’re definitely counting on you.”
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