Washington state’s stockpile of n95 masks

United States of America – the world’s leading nation with over 10 million positive cases with over a 200,000 death toll. The healthcare system of the most powerful country has been shaken by the pandemic. How come a powerful country became powerless over an invisible nemesis?

This is because not all states across the country have been implementing mask mandates. Through the mandate, people are forced to wear appropriate protective masks that can protect them against the virus. Mask mandates have been proven effective to regulate the number of positive cases. States like Washington have implemented the mandate on June 26th of this year.

Moreover, the state is now on the highlight of news spreads. The State of Washington has reported having stocks of the most in-demand mask; the N95 mask. This is a reflected action as the new wave of coronavirus cases hit the state. The N95 mask is the most in-demand mask in this pandemic. Medical workers have been recommending the N95 mask for it is really efficient in protecting people. An N95 mask is an effective tool that filters up to 95% of particles.

The State of Washington has over 30 million pieces of the N95 mask – sufficient to provide to their healthcare workers with 100 pieces of the N95 mask per health worker. These million pieces of the N95 mask are sitting in a warehouse.

With the issues of shortage for the N95 mask, the stockpiling of the mask is a just gesture as the state recorded an upsurge of new cases. People, however, are associating the amassing of the N95 mask to either the state’s cautious strategy or its failure of providing the N95 mask that amounts to $90 million.

Note that the N95 mask and other Personal Protective Equipment or PPE are given by the state for free. This is another gesture of the state as they are following stipulated laws of safety that can protect both employers and employees.


But can everyone get the free N95 mask? Who gets the free N95 mask and other PPE?

When the first wave of cases hit the state, Governor Inslee made a commendable move of tapping into companies that produce PPE. Over $407 million of PPE, including the N95 mask, are procured by the state; along with receiving donations and half of these have been circulated. 6 million pieces of the N95 mask have been distributed, taking the largest category of spending. 80% of the remaining N95 masks have been stored in an unidentified warehouse.

The remaining 80% of the N95 mask stock has been put into scrutiny until Reed Schuler, Governor Inslee’s senior adviser, clarified everything. He stated that the stockpile only mirrored the “qualified requests received” by the state; equated to the number of the ordered N95 mask.

So not every vital establishment is actually “qualified” to be granted free supplies of PPE, especially the N95 mask? The answer is yes.

In order to get a free complimentary supply of the N95 mask from the national supply, the establishment must obtain the following dilemma. (1) Frequency of interaction between the healthcare worker and the Covid patient, and (2) stocks of the N95 mask. These two are in line with Washington’s policy of prioritization of N95 mask distribution.  Therefore, vital establishments like hospitals with ample supply of the N95 mask and with lower interaction do not benefit from the free complimentary supply of the N95 mask.

Moreover, facilities like care homes do not qualify to be the “top priority” unless they have surging cases and supplies for the N95 mask are getting scarce. Does this sound unfair? Not exactly.

Going back to the idea of shortage, almost all hospitals both inside and outside Washington experience the effects of scarcity for the N95 mask. It is quite ironic for Schuler to indicate that there are only a few qualified requests for the N95 mask. Cassie Sauer, Washington State Hospital Association’s president, indicated that nearly all hospitals across the state are under a contingency status. This means hospitals are forced to reuse their N95 mask. Sauer even stated that hospitals should procure their N95 mask supplies from their trusted manufacturers and not rely on the state for too much. Knowing that the N95 mask manufacturer has developed, hospitals are still worried. Furthermore, Sauer expressed her interest in teaming up with the State as far as procurement of the desired amount of N95 mask is concerned.

This contingency status puts the state’s amassing idea into question. Why would the state stock pieces of the N95 mask while the majority of their hospitals are under “contingency” status? Would it kill the state in providing their hospitals ample supplies of the N95 mask?

A sort of counterargument from the executive director of Washington State Dental Association, Bracken Killpack, stating that holding back supplies of the N95 mask would avoid a surge of new cases and could further protect healthcare workers from the virus. According to Killpack, hoarding of the N95 mask does not necessarily associate with the idea of negative hoarding. It is more of a preventive measure especially when things would not go in their way on the world market.

In October of this year, the state of Washington had primed to allocate about half of the PPE required by the qualified workers in a span of two months. This amounts to 28.4 million pieces of the N95 mask.

This gesture of the Washington state stirred the pot of discussion as to stockpiling the N95 mask as a necessary move. One thing is for sure: the state’s gesture is a preparation for an even bigger surge of new cases.

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