General Motors assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich. General Motors, Ford, jet engine maker Rolls-Royce and other companies are talking about repurposing idled factories to produce vital goods to fight the coronavirus such as ventilators and surgical masks. Photo: Paul Sancya/AP General Motors assembly plant in Orion Township, Michigan. Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

A group of 16 state attorneys general are calling on President Donald Trump to “fully utilize” the  Defense Production Act to fight the coronavirus pandemic, warning there’s a pressing need to dramatically expand health care capacity and testing for the virus.

Leading the effort is Wisconsin Attorney General Joshua Kaul. Also signing the letter is New York Attorney General Letitia James and more than a dozen other attorneys general issued a message of urgency in a letter Tuesday. The New York City area is now the global epicenter of the pandemic. The letter also included signatures from attorneys general in California and Washington State, which have recorded high numbers of coronavirus cases.

Their voices join a stream of other public officials who have called on Trump to escalate the federal government’s response to a virus that has infected tens of thousands of people across the nation. 

Under the act the federal government is afforded wide powers, and the president can require businesses to prioritize contracts or orders, if they are viewed as necessary for the country’s national defense. 

“We are on the brink of catastrophic consequences resulting from the continued shortage of critical supplies,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter. “The federal government must act decisively now and use its sweeping authority to get as many needed supplies produced as soon as possible for distribution as quickly as possible.”

They warned the health care system needs to increase the number of ventilators and intensive care unit beds and argued workers on the front lines need more gloves, sanitizers, cleaning supplies, face shields, eye protection and gowns. 

 

New York government officials reporting Wednesday more than 30,800 cases of COVID-19 and 285 deaths related to the virus.

Those case numbers have soared in recent days, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a dire warning Tuesday saying the worst is yet to come. 

He reported the infection rate is moving more rapidly than previously expected and the state is projected to see the virus’ peak within two to three weeks. That means the state will need to grow the number of hospital beds to handle a looming flood of new coronavirus patients, he said.

The Democrat, who lambasted the Trump administration in his previous press conference Tuesday and argued they were not providing the state with enough ventilators, said allowing private companies to voluntarily offer their services would not be enough.

Cuomo, who appeared to jeer at the government’s response, said New York is far short of the 30,000 ventilators it needs to handle the virus’ expected peak.

In a shift, Cuomo struck a congenial tone with the federal government Wednesday and thanked Trump. He says the state is working with the White House on the ventilator issue.

Among the other state attorneys general to sign the letter were those from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, The District of Columbia attorney general has also signed on.