Former Vice President Joe Biden castigated President Donald Trump for questioning how many protective masks hospitals were using amid the spread of COVID-19, calling such statements “among the most reckless and ignorant” he had made during the ongoing pandemic.
Trump, standing in the Rose Garden on Sunday, suggested without evidence that the nation’s medical professionals may be misusing essential protective equipment meant to shield them while treating those infected with the highly contagious novel coronavirus. Cases have surged in the U.S. to more than 143,000, the most in the world, and more than 2,500 people have died from the virus.
“How do you go from using 10,000 to 20,000 [masks] to 300,000?” Trump asked during a press briefing. “Even though this is different. Something’s going on. Where are the masks going, are they going out the back door?”
Biden rejected that claim, and said Trump had failed to use the powers of the executive branch to “distribute this desperately needed equipment.”
I am issuing this challenge to the President: in the next 48 hours, direct the production and distribution of respirator masks, gloves, protective face shields and gowns to fill every supply request made by a governor to the federal government.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 30, 2020
Lives are at stake.
“This is ridiculous and completely false,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “Today’s conspiracy-mongering from our President is among the most reckless and ignorant moves he has made during this crisis, and there have been many. Lives hang in the balance.”
The president’s claims come amid ongoing reports that doctors across the country are running out of essential supplies. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city had just one week’s worth of gear on hand, but was still in desperate need of ventilators to treat a rush of patients afflicted with the virus.
Masks have been a persistent source of concern among medical professionals, and many have been forced to sterilize and reuse them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even issued guidance that providers use bandanas or scarves “if necessary.”
The Washington Post on Sunday reported that some in the Trump administration had been calling for the country to buy vast numbers of masks and other supplies to restore a federal stockpile of medical equipment. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar reportedly asked for $2 billion to do so on Feb. 5, but was rebuffed by the Office of Management and Budget. The request was ultimately cut to just 25%, or $500 million.
The White House later secured about $16 billion in the landmark stimulus package passed on Friday, according to the Post.
But rather than support those efforts, Trump on Sunday accused medical professionals of only asking for more.
“We’re delivering millions and millions of products and all we do is hear, ‘Can we get some more?,’” the president complained, specifically pointing out masks delivered to New York. “I think people should check that. I think there’s something going on. I don’t think it’s hoarding, I think it’s something worse than hoarding.”
Biden cheered health workers in his statement, saying the industry is fighting “like hell to protect our health and safety.” He challenged Trump to use his executive powers under the Defense Production Act to fast-track the manufacturing of supplies in short supply.
“The President has the power and the responsibility to end the shortage of masks,” Biden said. “Instead of making it happen, he’s blaming and accusing the doctors and nurses and health care workers and hospitals.”
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.