As they prepare for an expected influx of patients, local public health officials painted a picture of a system with only a limited “surge” capacity, and stressed the importance of social distancing as a crucial way to keep the numbers of patients at a level the system can handle…

And it’s not just the machines. The respiratory therapists who treat these critically ill patients are also in short supply, several doctors and hospital leaders point out.

There is little the government or local officials can do to increase the ventilator numbers in time to address the coronavirus outbreak: There are believed to be around 20,000 additional ventilators in the national emergency stockpile, according to Dr. Richard Branson, a professor of surgery and the University of Cincinnati and critical care expert who got an overview of the supply when he had a role with a manufacturer. The government has not made public details about the emergency stockpile.