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article imageShortage of key material puts crimp in medical mask manufacturing

By Karen Graham     Sep 10, 2020 in Business
White House officials say U.S. hospitals have all the medical supplies needed to battle the coronavirus, but frontline health care workers, hospital officials and even the FDA say shortages persist, especially for the N95 mask.
Shortages of the N95 masks, as well as other medical gear needed for front-line workers, started in March, when New York became a hot spot for the coronavirus. There were pressures on the medical supply chain then, and it continues to this day.
And in "many ways things have only gotten worse," the American Medical Association's president, Dr. Susan Bailey, said in a recent statement, reports Modern Healthcare.
"N95s are still in a shortage," said Mike Schiller, the American Hospital Association's senior director for supply chains. "It's certainly not anywhere near pre-COVID levels."
Stark warnings went unheeded
Early in the pandemic, the Trump White House failed to heed the stark warnings from high-level officials about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, and this was particularly evident regarding the N95 masks. The Associated Press has found the administration took months to sign contracts with companies that make the crucial component inside these masks: meltblown textile.
The N95 face mesk
The N95 face mesk
Melt Blowing is a manufacturing process where a polymer melt, consisting of plastic micro- and nanofibers is extruded through small nozzles surrounded by high speed blowing gas. The randomly deposited fibers form a nonwoven sheet product. This product can then be used for filtration, sorbents, apparels and drug delivery systems.
Exxon Corporation developed the first industrial process based on the melt blowing principle with high throughput levels. Today, China produces 40 percent of the non-woven fabric in the world with the majority produced in Hebei province (2018).
But even today, manufacturers in the U.S. say the Trump administration hasn’t made the long-term investments they need in order to ramp up to full capacity. However, the White House has allowed exports of the meltdown material to slip out of the country, even as the demand for the N95 masks has grown in this country.
Manufacturers make the point of saying they could suffer huge losses if they invest millions in machinery, raw materials, new employees and factory space to make a product that could have a very short shelf-life - especially without any assurances from the federal government they would continue to buy their meltblown textile after the pandemic is over.
"I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we’re going to guarantee purchases in 2021 or whatever date you pick,” said Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force. He also denies there are shortages.
In an interview in August, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro disputes reports of shortages. He said his office responds daily to news stories of ill-equipped medical providers, sending supplies as needed. "We have what we need to get to people what they need," he said.
More about N95 masks, Shortages, meltblown textile, Manufacturing, Trump administration
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