ALBANY (TNS) — If you know anything about the coronavirus pandemic in New York, you know the state desperately needs ventilators.

As Andrew Cuomo says nearly every day, lives will be lost if the state doesn’t acquire more of the breathing-assistance machines. The governor has almost begged the federal government to do whatever it can to deliver them or get them manufactured.

That has prompted pushback from President Donald Trump, including a claim, made last week on Fox News, that Cuomo rejected buying ventilators in favor of “death panels and lotteries.”

“He had a chance to buy, in 2015, 16,000 ventilators at a very low price and he turned it down,” the president said. “I’m not blaming him or anything else, but he shouldn’t be talking about us. He should be buying his own ventilators.”

It was one of those bizarre moments, distressingly common, when a baffled listener can only wonder at what Trump is talking about. Death panels? Ventilators at a low price? Huh?

Turns out, Trump was getting his information from a dubious source: Gateway Pundit, a right-wing opinion site that, in a recent post on Cuomo and ventilators, pointed to an obscure state report on planning for pandemics.

As I’ll discuss in minute, the claims about the report were terribly misleading, at best. I’d say they were blatantly dishonest.

But that didn’t stop them from being highlighted by Trump and parroted by Sean Hannity, the president’s chief propagandist, who used his Fox News show to blast Cuomo for blowing money on bad upstate economic development schemes when he could have been buying ventilators.

OK. There’s a lot to unpack here.

But let’s start by noting that, in a moment of national crisis, the president and his allies are attacking the governor of the state most impacted by COVID-19 cases with deceptive claims and finger pointing. But this is where we are. America, 2020.

Now, about that report from the state Department of Health and the Task Force on Life and the Law.

On Monday, I talked to Stuart Sherman, a bioethicist who in 2015 was the executive director of said task force. He sounded almost amused that the report is getting so much attention, since he doesn’t remember a single news story being done about it at the time.

“It’s being used as a cudgel to go after the governor,” Sherman said. “They have basically distilled a very complex report that was nine years in the making and involved many people and a lot of thought into a two-sentence thing that said, ‘You should buy more ventilators now.’”

But the report said no such thing, which is why it’s misleading to say Cuomo rejected buying them at a low, or any other, price. The report essentially took it as a given there would be too few ventilators during a pandemic and planned for how to distribute them in an ethical way.

Death panels?! Please. Read the report and it’s clear the idea is simply to get ventilators to the patients who need them most.

In the section most cited by Trump allies, the report said New York would need 18,000 ventilators if confronted by something akin to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which was posited as a worst-case scenario.

Sure, Cuomo could have read the report at the time and decided to immediately stockpile all the ventilators New York needed for a worst-case scenario. But would it have been feasible or rational to do so? I put the question to Stewart.

“The fact that no states have done it, the federal government hasn’t done it, and no other countries have done it speaks to its feasibility,” he said, citing the prohibitive purchase and maintenance costs, among other factors.

Here’s the good news: While New York only had 1,750 ventilators stockpiled at the time of the report — not including the more than 7,000 that were already in hospitals — Cuomo now says the state has about 17,000 on hand or on the way. The total includes 7,000 that have been ordered in recent weeks and 4,000 from the federal government.

The bad news: Under current projections, that still won’t be enough. Cuomo believes New York will need “at least” 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the pandemic. As it turns out, the worst-case scenario envisioned by the 2015 report isn’t as bad as what we’re facing now.

Meanwhile, according to some estimates, the United States will need at least 750,000 ventilators to confront a pandemic as serious as this one. But the country has just 100,000 in its medical facilities, and the federal government is believed to have only 16,000 in its Strategic National Stockpile.

In the face of those grim numbers, and despite pleas from Cuomo and other governors, Trump has been slow to order manufacturers to produce ventilators and other desperately needed supplies. When urgent action was needed, he dithered.

So here’s the simple truth: We’re woefully unprepared, and lives will be lost as a result.

I understand why the likes of Sean Hannity would rather talk about Cuomo’s failed economic development efforts. Heck, I’ve been plenty critical of them, too.

But we have much more important worries right now.

(Chris Churchill is a columnist with the Times Union of Albany.)

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