Fighting virus: New York lawmaker asks Tesla to make ventilators

New York is the most-affected US state with more than 20,000 cases of COVID-19.

A New York assemblyman wants Tesla to make medical ventilators at its state-subsidised solar factory [File: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters]

A New York assemblyman has asked Elon Musk to make medical ventilators at Tesla Inc.’s state-subsidized solar factory, which may be unable to meet hiring goals because of a shutdown order.

In a letter to the Tesla chief executive officer on Tuesday, Assemblyman Sean Ryan urged Musk to help the state cope with the worsening pandemic, noting New York is the most-impacted in the nation with more than 20,000 cases of Covid-19.

“It makes sense that increased ventilator production would happen here to ensure we can meet the growing demand of our health-care system,” Ryan wrote.

In an interview, the assemblyman said Tesla responded to him and didn’t rule out the possibility of using the Buffalo plant for ventilators. But the automaker, Ryan said, is primarily focused on reducing “supply-chain constraints” for the devices and helping Medtronic Plc, which makes them, ramp up.

Tesla didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

Ryan’s letter comes days after Tesla announced it would temporarily idle solar production at the Buffalo plant amid the virus outbreak and after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sought Musk’s help accessing ventilators. Musk tweeted Thursday that his team would reach out to the mayor’s.

The letter also comes shortly before Tesla faced a state deadline in April to employ 1,460 workers at the plant or pay a $41.2 million penalty.

“Obviously, Tesla will be unable to meet its goal if its factory is required to remain partially shut down,” Pamm Lent, a spokeswoman for Empire State Development, a New York economic agency, wrote in an email. “Since the beginning of this project, ESD has been in communication with Tesla, and that continues. No conclusions have been reached on job requirements under the current situation.”

The agency will working with Tesla and other businesses in the state to “review their commitments and discuss the appropriate path forward after this crisis,” Lent said.

Late Monday, Musk tweeted that Tesla bought 1,255 ventilators from China and shipped them to Los Angeles to help alleviate the shortage that’s expected to hit hospitals as the pandemic becomes more severe. The company will install the devices for free, he wrote.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday the rate of new coronavirus infections is doubling about every three days despite all the steps the state has taken to slow the spread. The state has procured 7,000 ventilators and needs another 30,000, he said.

Source: Bloomberg