In order to ship the badly needed equipment, the Defense Department has to be given a location to send them by civilian authorities who have to decide where the items are most needed.
“There was discussion with HHS on where to send them. And then they said hey wait, we’re trying to take a look at the demand that’s required, and so we were asked to just wait while there was just some sorting through on that. And I won’t speak on behalf of them, but we were in a position to provide 2,000,” said Lt. General Giovanni Tuck.
Tuck said he had no details on the HHS decisions, but added that “we haven’t provided any, because as of last night, we were asked to just hold on the ones that we have, and then we will push them when they’re ready for them.”
He emphasized there are 1,000 ventilators fully ready to be shipped as soon as the Pentagon gets a destination of where to send them. The other 1,000 can also be assembled and shipped within days of getting the order he indicated.
Civilian Pentagon officials had repeatedly said they are making ventilators and five million N-95 respirator masks available. So far only 1.5 million masks have been shipped by the Pentagon. Another 500,000 are to be shipped within days.
But HHS and FEMA have given DoD no indication of when or where they precisely want the other three million items to go.
CNN has contacted HHS for comment.
On March 17 Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at a briefing that the department is prepared to distribute up to 2,000 ventilators “as needed.”
“We are prepared to distribute to HHS up to 2,000 deployable ventilators for use as needed. These machines are different from their civilian equivalents and require special training to operate, but we are committed to supporting HHS’s requirements in any way we can,” he said at the time.
“The department has made our 14 certified coronavirus testing labs available to test non-DOD personnel as well, and we will soon offer two additional labs for that purpose. We hope this will provide excess capacity to the civilian population,” Esper added.
Health experts say there is a serious need for more respirators and ventilators to deal with the surge of coronavirus patients.
During that briefing, Esper acknowledged that “when you look at the numbers of people that are projected that may need ventilators, 2,000 doesn’t put much of a dent into it, but we can offer what we have.”
Additionally, it remains unclear if the Pentagon has tested any civilian patients for the virus more than two weeks after Esper said it had offered to do so.
“We are not maxing our capacity in our labs around the world,” Joint Staff Surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs said at a Pentagon press conference last week, adding that the Defense Department is currently operating 16 labs capable of conducting the test.
“We have not received an RFA, a request for assistance, from HHS that I’m aware of,” he said. “But we do have capacity in some of our labs. We’ve identified that to HHS.”
Several hours after the Pentagon said it had not received a request for assistance with testing, HHS told CNN it had since made an “initial request for assistance” from the Defense Department.
“HHS has submitted an initial request for assistance to DOD and both departments are in the process of assessing the capabilities to partner on testing,” the statement from HHS said.
CNN has reached out to the Pentagon for an update but has not yet received a response.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
CNN’s Michael Conte and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.