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Ever since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in March, the United States, along with the rest of the world, started to face a real emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic started in December of 2019, and has since spread to the whole world, making it a very real and devastating health crisis. One of the first things people started to worry about were the resources, especially healthcare workers.
Many experts were concerned about the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the USA, especially of N95 respirators. The thought of our healthcare workers having to attend to people with coronavirus without the proper gear was a very concerning and frightening possibility, predicted by many to become a reality on the homefront.
People started to buy N95 masks, gloves, face shields, KN95 masks, and all sorts of personal protective equipment in bulk, and shortages started to become a reality. There are numerous healthcare centers and providers across the country who have already reported having to work without proper virus protection, which is very dangerous.
Why are N95 masks so effective?
Before we talk about Amazon’s efforts with the coronavirus, let’s talk about the basics. So, why are N95 masks so valuable right now? These masks are considered to be the best type of filter for airborne particles. This means they are the best protection against the Sars-Cov-2, the virus that is causing the pandemic. Surgical face masks, also known as disposable face masks, don’t all have an adequate filtration rate to fully protect a person from inhaling the virus.
Why is the N95 mask so effective? Well, it's all because of its two main features, which are reflected in its name. N95 masks must have two main properties to be classified as such:
- The ‘N’ means that the respirator is not resistant to oil. This makes it effective for filtration of non-oil-based particles, such as dust, smoke, and bioaerosols, like the virus that causes the COVID-19, or the virus that causes the flu.
- The number ‘95’ refers to the minimum filtration efficacy of the mask. The N95 respirator filtrates at least 95% of all airborne particles, that is, particles that are 0.3 micrometers in diameter. Viruses are airborne particles, so this is another characteristic that makes the N95 mask a valuable resource.
Now, it isn’t that easy to produce a face mask and call it an N95 respirator. To ensure these masks do what they are supposed to do, they must be regulated very tightly and thoroughly. N95 masks are part of the PPE of many industries with respiratory hazards, like the construction or mining industries, and to make sure workers aren’t exposed to these risks, N95 masks have to be tested and approved by a national institution.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is a federal agency, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are in charge of making recommendations to prevent injuries or illnesses that could be related to the work environment. As such, they have the responsibility of regulating N95 respirators, and these masks need an approval stamp by NIOSH to be considered effective and high-quality. But a NIOSH approval is not enough when it comes to the healthcare field, and if a manufacturer wants to target their N95 masks for medical use, they have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
As we mentioned earlier, the shortage of PPE was imminent since the cases of coronavirus infection started to rise in March. Experts warned about this possible shortage since before the virus arrived in the USA, in particular shortages of the N95 respirator, which was already becoming scarce in other parts of the world.
In March, the Department of Health and Human Services declared that the United States medical supply could only cover about 1% of the estimated quantity needed to face the pandemic. The World Health Organization was already recommending the increase in medical supply production all over the world, since shortages were already happening in the most affected countries at that time.
In response to these risks, the Defense Production Act of 1950 was invoked in April. This law authorizes the government to direct private manufacturers to prioritize the domestic supply of these medical products needed to protect people from the coronavirus, especially healthcare workers. 3M, the most important medical supply company in the USA, followed these measures and started to increase the production of N95 respirators.
Despite all the measures taken, months after the DPA was invoked by the President, experts stated that the measure was taken too late in order for it to be effective, and that shortages were happening and would have continued to happen anyway. As states opened, the need for PPE was increasing, while production wasn’t covering the demand. NIOSH urged other industries to leave N95 respirators for healthcare workers, and to use other types of respiratory protection.
It seemed that the measures were taken too late, and that the production of supplies never adjusted to meet the demand of equipment the country would face. The reopening of states increased the demand even further, and at the same time, causing an increase of coronavirus cases, making the demand even higher. This combination of factors led to the shortages we are seeing today.
Private clinics and medical offices are the most adversely affected. While most of the supplies are directed to hospitals that are receiving the majority of coronavirus cases, smaller healthcare centers are left unprotected to attend potentially infected patients. Dental offices are also being affected by this shortage, and they are some of the most exposed personnel.
Amazon’s history with N95 respirators
Amazon was a very common and reliable source for all sorts of medical supplies and PPE, including N95 respirators. This was a good option for companies in industries with respiratory hazards towards their workers to purchase N95 masks online and provide high-quality respirators to them.
With the rise of COVID-19 cases in the world, the imminent N95 mask shortage was noticed by Amazon. This is why in March they announced the prioritization of medical supply stock and daily necessities. In countries that had the highest number of cases at that time, like France and Italy, Amazon even stopped nonessential product shipment.
Early on, Amazon started to block new offers for sellers of products related to coronavirus protection. The notice was sent out to new sellers that applications to sell medical supplies or any product related to coronavirus prevention, including hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, disposable face masks or N95 respirators.
However, it’s important to point out that this measure was only applicable to new sellers, and existing listings wouldn’t be removed. But, Amazon was facing another problem due to the coronavirus pandemic: price gouging.
The crisis came with an incredible increase in online shopping to avoid physical stores. Plus, people were buying these items in bulk, so the demand was very high, leading to some sellers take advantage of consumers and increase their prices. To avoid price gouging, Amazon chose to remove existing listings only if they were suspicious of this.
To support the healthcare workers, facing the shortages of N95 respirators, in April Amazon made an additional measure: medical PPE, especially N95 respirators will only be sold to healthcare centers, like hospitals, and to the government; not to the general public. Amazon also waived commission fees from sellers to, according to them, “encourage our selling partners to keep further inventory of these products available at competitive prices for customers in greatest need”.
During the same period, the CDC was already reconsidering their recommendations regarding disposable and cloth face masks, and eventually cleared the public to safely use these items, and leave N95 respirators to workers at the frontline. The federal agency now clearly states that homemade or cloth masks are effective for regular people that aren't in close contact with any suspected cases and that N95 respirators should be prioritized for healthcare workers.
Although Amazon hasn’t sold N95 masks to the general public for several months now, along with other coronavirus-related items like disinfectant wipes, gloves, or hand sanitizers, Amazon still has other options for sale for regular customers to buy. These items include cloth masks and surgical face masks.
Are you an everyday American looking to purchase N95 masks to protect yourself and your family? While Amazon holds back on selling these state-of-the-art respirators to the American people, Clinical Supplies USA does not. The Clinical Supplies' website offer many 3M N95 mask models, including the 8511 and 8210.
What else has Amazon done to help face the coronavirus pandemic?
Aside from these few measures that Amazon has taken in response to the shortage of N95 respirators, and to ensure medical supplies for hospitals, the company has also done additional things to help its employers, customers, and communities around the world fight off the coronavirus.
- For its employees
Working during a pandemic is very hard, and a lot of people have found themselves facing enhanced difficulties because of COVID-19. A lot of people have had to take care of ill relatives or have to spend more time at home due to schools and daycares being closed. Medical bills are also a huge hit for people right now, and Amazon has taken some measures to ensure its workers can be safe.
Approximately $4 billion was invested by the company to ensure the safety of its employees while working, providing equipment for protection against the virus. They also offered a total of $500 million in Thank You bonuses during June. Process updates, like enhanced cleaning and social distancing, were taken in all facilities, and protective gear was distributed on operations worldwide.
Additionally, any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 will receive two weeks of paid leave days, and extra time off with full pay as well. Amazon employees also have health benefits since the day they start working with the company. Finally, a $25 million fund was set up for partners and seasonal associates, to help alleviate any financial hardship they might be facing.
- For its customers
All physical Amazon stores and Whole Foods are providing free disposable face masks to their customers, and enhanced cleaning is being implemented at these establishments as well. At Whole Foods Market stores, customers who the CDC defines as being at high risk, like those over 60 years old and those with disabilities, have dedicated shopping hours.
For their delivery services, including Amazon Prime Now and Amazon Fresh, customers can choose to have "unattended delivery". Customers can choose front-porch delivery, and the team will leave the item at the front door, no signature required. The delivery vehicles are properly disinfected every day, along with all delivery devices and mobile phones after each delivery.
We already discussed how Amazon has been fighting against price gouging in their stores, to protect customers from sellers who want to take advantage of Amazon customer’s fear and vulnerability.
- For communities around the world
Amazon has also focused on helping those in need in the United States and all over the world. They launched the AWS Diagnostic Initiative with a $20 million budget, to help fund and accelerate research about COVID-19. To help those most affected in Europe specifically, they donated €21 million, and the CEO of the company donated $100 million to the Feeding America organization.
175,000 full time and part-time employees have been hired since the start of the pandemic to help provide jobs to those who ended up unemployed because of those emergencies. Amazon has donated 8,200 laptops to students without access to this device at home, and Amazon Future Engineer program donated an additional 4,000 laptops to American high school students. $5 million in Amazon devices was also donated globally.
It's safe to say Amazon, along with many other companies across the country, has done incredible work to help healthcare workers, researchers, essential workers, and communities in need feel supported and safe. N95 masks are not reusable, and they are becoming scarce and overpriced, so we need all the help we can get to make sure anyone who uses them is having the best antiviral protection.
You can find a wide range of N95 masks that are NIOSH approved online, especially at Clinical Supplies USA. Brands like 3M N95 masks are a very good option to purchase on this website. You can even find special masks for kids with a smaller size, and popular models like the 3M 8511 and the 3M 8210. Stay safe!