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As New York state grappled with the devastating effects of the novel coronavirus, officials paid more than $69 million for 1,450 ventilators that they never received after enlisting the help of a California man who responded to one of President Trump’s tweets, according to a Buzzfeed News report.
Silicon Valley-based electrical engineer Yaron Oren-Pines responded to Trump’s March 27 tweet slamming Ford and General Motors for “stupidly” abandoning their plant and calling on them to “START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!” Buzzfeed reported.
Oren-Pines was one of the thousands of people to respond, reportedly writing: “We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT.”
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His Twitter account, which had 128 followers as of Thursday morning, has since been set to private and the reply is no longer viewable to the public.
Within days, New York ordered 1,450 ventilators for $69.1 million, which, according to the report, means each item costs $47,656 – or at least three times the standard price.
On March 30, Oren-Pines received what the report called “the largest single payment made by the New York Department of Health under an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month.”
The same week as Trump's tweet, Cuomo, the governor of New York, made desperate pleas to other states and the federal government to send breathing machines that the state would return when demand slows down.
Around that time, New York had emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot, with more than 92,000 cases by the beginning of April. Data shows at least 299,691 cases were reported in the state as of Thursday morning
“We had no choice but to overturn every rock to find ventilators and other needed equipment,” Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi told Buzzfeed. “States were forced to fend for themselves to purchase lifesaving supplies to combat a global pandemic and with all modeling showing a more severe spread of this virus with more hospitalizations and more fatalities.”
But none of the ventilators ever arrived, the outlet reported.
State officials later broke off the deal and have recouped some, but not all of the money, according to the report. Officials would not provide the specific amount the state was able to have returned.
When contacted by Buzzfeed News, Oren-Pines said: “Neither me nor my company is providing any comment on this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.