6 reasons N95 masks remain in shortage across the US

Healthcare workers are still seeing critical shortages of N95 masks, and organizations representing millions of providers are asking the federal government for more help, The Washington Post reported. 

A survey of 21,500 nurses conducted in August found that 68 percent of them were still required to reuse respirators, with a nurse in Texas reporting that she's still wearing the same five N95 masks she was given in March, according to the Post

The American Hospital Association said this month that the situation regarding N95 masks remains "fragile and challenging," and Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, said the situation is "maddening, frustrating, mind-blowing, aggravating," the Post reported. 

The government maintains it has done enough and that the PPE industry has stepped up on its own, the Post reported. Rear Admn. John Polowzyk, who President Donald Trump put in charge of securing PPE, said that by December, the U.S. will be making 160 million  N95s per month, enough to handle a "peak surge."

"I believe now that hospital systems are making management decisions that might lead to an appearance that we still don’t have masks, which is the furthest from the truth," Mr. Polowzyk said, according to the Post

The government has used the Defense Production Act to invest $296.9 million in boosting N95 mask production. The U.S. Defense Department, which oversees Defense Production Act funding, spends more per year on instruments, uniforms and travel for military bands, according to the Post.

Six reasons N95 masks are still in shortage, according to the Post

  1. The government hasn't used the Defense Production Act on N95 masks the same way it did on ventilators. Instead, it allowed manufacturers to scale up as they saw fit and didn't fund potential new manufacturers.

  2. Many hospitals cut costs by using medical supply companies to provide equipment on an as-needed basis rather than creating a stockpile of personal protective equipment, as they knew that the government had the strategic national stockpile filled with PPE it could rely on. But the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009 depleted 85 million N95s from the stockpile, and the supply was never replenished.

  3. HHS funded the invention of a machine that could make 1.5 million N95 masks per day, but when the design was completed in 2018, the government didn't purchase it.

  4. HHS turned down an offer in January from a manufacturer that could have made millions of N95 masks. The agency didn't start ordering the masks from multiple companies until March 21, when the U.S. had 8,000 reported COVID-19 cases, and healthcare workers were already worried about PPE shortages.

  5. Without long-term guarantees that the government will keep buying respirators, N95 manufacturers are wary of investing too much to boost production.

    "It is not profitable to make respirators in the United States," Peter Tsai, a scientist who invented a method to charge the fibers inside the N95 mask's filter, told the Post.

  6. U.S. N95 makers have protected their processes as intellectual property, declining to share information with other companies that could start making the masks, too.  

Read the full article here.

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