A crucial side-battle is emerging in the nation’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic: the U.S. government versus 3M, the largest supplier of N95 respirator masks, needed by healthcare professionals and first responders to keep them safe in the line of duty.
Personal protective equipment (PPEs) can quite literally be a matter of life and death for those on the frontline battle against the disease, and last week President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act instructing private companies – principally 3M — to prioritize orders from the federal government.
There are currently about 21 million Americans who are fighting the coronavirus pandemic on the front lines. This includes an estimated:
16.8 million healthcare workers
2.1 million active-duty service members, National Guard, and reservists
1.1 million firefighters
1.0 million law enforcement professionals
As a nation, we need about 300 million of these disposable N95-type masks a month. That’s not an excessive number — it translates to only 14 masks a month for the 21 million Americans on the front lines of the pandemic.
But 3M has pledged to produce only 50 million per month, less than a sixth of what is needed.
After being called out by President Trump, 3M has pledged to produce 50 million masks a month for the U.S.
The Trump administration has also asked 3M to stop exporting masks made in the U.S. to Canada and Latin America and instead leave them here – rather than relying on masks produced in China.
In a statement, the company issued its own warning back, saying that keeping what’s made in America, in America, could have dire consequences:
…ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease.
Hmm. We’ve managed as a nation to make ourselves “energy independent.” Seems like we should be able to make ourselves “PPE independent” too. No?
This is a helluva mess right now. We’re battling a pandemic that appears to have started in China, and the nation (if not the world) now seems to be unable to fight the spread of the pandemic unless we can get masks…from China.
At Nine Line, we’ve been banging the drum for American-made for quite some time, and now it’s not just a matter of pride, but a matter of national security.
We’re currently working with engineers, fabric manufacturers, scientists and physicians to design and produce low-cost masks in our own facilities and others across the nation.
We’ve developed a mask with replaceable filters that offers a much more sustainable solution to the one-use N95 masks that are supposed to be disposed of with each use. If widely produced, our mask design could exceed 3M’s production promise and be a better long term solution.
We’re prepared to completely pivot our company to the manufacture of masks until the nation gets through this crisis, but we need the FDA to expedite our emergency request for testing and approval. Until then we will be supplying containment masks, like these here.
The health of our citizens shouldn’t be at the mercy of overseas contracts and governments.
In the meantime, while you’re sitting around in your home, afraid to go outdoors, do a little housecleaning. Throw out everything in your house that’s made in China. Kinda scary, isn’t it?