In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the N95 respirator has become a critical supply for the world. Be it for personal use or as medical equipment, this disposable face mask became one of the most sought out products in recent months. The leaders of the majority of the countries have practiced different measures to ensure their nation’s needs were met in full force, and the United States has been no different.
The N95 respirator is a type of face mask with specific characteristics dictated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the US federal agency responsible for regulating the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses.
According to the NIOSH classification, N95 masks are not resistant to oil and have a filtration efficacy of at least 95% of all airborne particles in the air. This makes it proficient for protection against viruses, since they aren’t oil-based particles.
The increased demand for the N95 mask amid the pandemic has created shortages all around the world. With these shortages, a lot of manufacturers have released on the market counterfeit face masks claiming to be N95 masks.
The Trump administration and the N95 mask during the pandemic
The main political decision under the Trump administration regarding the PPE necessary for the pandemic has been invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950. This a law signed in 1950 by President Harry Truman in response to the need for supplies and equipment during the Korean war. It has been invoked since then multiple times for many different emergencies, like hurricanes and wars.
The act gives the government the authority to require private companies to prioritize government contracts necessary for the defense of the country, directing these companies to meet the needs of the nation first and foremost. Other things that can be done under this act is the authorization for the president to use loans and other incentives to increase the production of necessary supplies, as well as blocking foreign acquisitions, among other things.
The Trump administration invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 on April 2, and the next day one of the biggest medical PPE manufactures in the United States and the world, 3M, issued a statement where they said they supported the president’s decision on prioritizing orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for N95 respirators, and to import more of the N95 masks that were manufactured overseas into the US.
The 3M Company is an American corporation that specializes in the production of worker safety gear, also known as personal protection equipment or PPE. This company is one of the most important health care suppliers inside the US, including surgical and dental equipment and products. They’re based in Maplewood in Minnesota.
Their N95 respirator was developed and approved by NIOSH all the way back in 1972, making them one of the first American companies to have approved N95 masks for sale. These are able to filter viruses, and were recommended for use during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their supply rapidly became scarce.
This shortage is one of the reasons the government asked the company to prioritize national supply and even asked them to stop exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin American countries, where the company claim to be critical suppliers for health care workers. This decision didn't sit well with 3M, stating that it had significant humanitarian implications and that it would likely cause these countries to retaliate in the future.
The company doubled its production rapidly to almost 35 million N95 masks every month in the US, and on May 7, it announced that they had accepted two more contracts from the US Department of Defense to expand the domestic production of the N95 mask. These contracts enabled 3M to increase their production to 95 million N95 respirators per month. By July, 3M announced in a statement that it had reached its midyear goals for N95 mask production to face the COVID-19 pandemic.
The use of the Defense Production Act has been controversial, especially because of the time Donald Trump decided to invoke it. Many say that the contracts to third-party vendors have made the government pay a price that costs a lot more per unit than what they would have spent earlier in the year when the COVID-19 emergency was just starting.
One of the most controversial decisions was the $55 million contract with Panthera Worldwide LLC, a company with no prior experience in medical equipment, after the N95 masks were never delivered. The initial delivery date was set for April 23, and then to May 11 after to extensions requested by the company. After the third extension request, FEMA canceled the contract.
Another controversial statement by the president back in April was the possibility of using sterilization equipment to reuse N95 respirators up to 20 times. This was concerning any experts, since N95 asks have always been made to be disposable.
Now, in the middle of the year, and after more than 5 months since the start of the pandemic, some experts say the efforts made with the DPA have not been enough, and that they started too late. Smaller physicians' offices have had trouble getting supplies, and as states have reopened the school and other spaces, more people are needing N95 masks more than ever.
As always, we recommend to all our readers to stay home and safe during this time. Remember that finding N95 masks in stock is easy, and you can buy them safely on online shops to ensure you keep with social distancing. This way you, your family, and your kids will stay safe and well.