Trump used a wartime law to order GM to make ventilators, but then he stopped. Here’s what he needs to use it for next.

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on the coronavirus in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP Photo

On Friday, March 27, President Donald Trump finally used the Defence Production Act – a wartime powers act that allows the White House to demand assistance from private industry – to order General Motors to produce ventilators for use combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Trump said in a statement. “GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”

Trump had previously declared himself a “wartime president” but resisted utilising wartime powers, such as the Defence Production Act, because he said it would amount to nationalizing private industry in US – which the act does not do. Previously, the administration had been exclusively relying on private companies to volunteer their services rather than invoking the act to demand assistance.

Even though Trump has treated the Defence Production Act as a last resort regarding the pandemic, the military has used the law hundreds of thousands of times throughout his presidency to ensure contract prioritisation, according to The New York Times.

The US has the highest number of coronavirus cases worldwide, more than 190,000. On March 29, Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious-disease expert, predicted that the US would have “millions of cases” and possibly more than 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Hospitals are severly strained amid the pandemic – ventilators are sorely needed, but so are other resources.

In a March 29 interview with NBC, leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said that as president, he would invoke the Defence Production Act to produce more than just ventilators: “I would do the same thing for masks and gowns … and all the things our first responders and doctors and nurses need,” he said. “Why are we waiting?”

The US is currently experiencing a severe shortage of protective gear for medical professionals, including N95 respirator masks.

Many medical professionals are currently reusing their N95 respirator masks, which are tight-fitting masks effective at filtering out airborne particles, such as those that carry the coronavirus. Those on the front lines are rewearing masks in order to conserve their already limited supply of protective gear.

The N95 respirators are notoriously hard to make, according to NPR. Even still, one of the US’ largest private mask makers, Prestige Ameritech, has increased production from 250,000 to one million masks a day, and Honeywell, another large mask maker, previously told Business Insider that it was open to coordination with the US government.

Separately, fashion designer Christian Siriano coordinated with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make masks for New York medical professionals.

On March 24, Trump tweeted that there are “millions of masks” coming to the US, and wrote that “The Defence Production Act is in full force” but he has not had to use it because “no one has said NO!”

Meanwhile, state governors still continue to plead for more. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers requested 190,000 masks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and has yet to receive aid, according to The Washington Post.

Those who have received federal aid report there’s much to be desired – cases of masks shipped by FEMA last week to Montgomery, Alabama, had dry rot.

Utilising the Defence Production Act to ramp up production of protective gear would benefit medical professionals expediently. Without the supplies needed to safely treat patients, workers are more at risk of getting sick themselves, which could further burden an already strained US healthcare system.