The mask command was relaxed. It’s a welcome step in the fight against COVID-19. But for 20 domestic companies that entered the mask-making business last year, The good news comes with a downside: the tragic drop in sales.
Some of the declining demand is linked to the loosening of cover-up guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But industry experts say the bigger factor is the return of cheap protective gear from China, which began flooding the U.S. market earlier this year.
Some industry executives and members of Congress have accused China of dumping it. By noting that many imported products have very low prices. which is sometimes a tenth of the price at a US factory. charged for that comparable product. There is little chance that local companies will survive.
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in the past few weeks At least three companies have stopped producing masks and medical gowns. And a number of companies have significantly reduced their production, including Premium-PPE, a 1-year-old surgical mask maker in Virginia. which recently laid off 280 employees .
“Our industry is in glass breaking mode,” said Brent Dilly, the company’s co-owner.
Like other startups The company entered the mask business after China. The world’s largest manufacturer of medical protective equipment. Halt exports at the start of the pandemic
“Six months from now Many of us won’t be around,” Dilly said, “and that won’t be good for America the next time there’s a national health emergency.”
The crisis facing domestic manufacturers is an urgent test for Biden’s management. and brings together two of the most important priorities: support US manufacturing; and making sure health care workers no longer try to find suitable protective equipment. Health experts say The shortage is likely to contribute to the high infection rate among frontline workers, where more than 3,600 people have died from coronavirus. During the first year of the pandemic, according to The Guardian and Kaiser Health News.
The White House has announced some measures aimed at stimulating the nation’s personal protective equipment manufacturers. But industry executives say they are still waiting for more concrete trade policies and supply chain reforms. This will increase the chances of survival of the company.
Tim Manning, COVID-19 Supply Coordinator The White House’s chief executive said the administration had been trying to address some of the industry’s challenges: They had pushed federal agencies to procure domestic supplies. And they have introduced start-ups to distribution giants that supply the nation’s hospital network. He said management is also ready in the coming months to allocate billions of dollars. in federal relief spending to fill the National Strategic Treasury with U.S.-made medical products
“The scale and scope of these efforts is something we are still working on,” Manning said in an interview.
In Congress, the bipartisan bill will allocate $500 million in annual spending over the next three years to support major medical device manufacturers in the country.
while industry executives praised these moves. They said time was running out. Mask Manufacturers Association of America which is a newly established trading group It said 27 members had laid off 50 percent of their employees without joint action from Washington. Most of those companies will go bankrupt within the next two months.
they said The immediate boost was the abolition of CDC practices that emerged during the pandemic. That has forced health workers to repeatedly use N95 masks, even though they are designed to be disposed of after contact with each patient. Many hospitals still follow the guidelines. Although there are 260 million masks collecting dust in warehouses across the country.
“We don’t need boundless government support,” said Lloyd Armbrust, the association president and founder and chief executive of Armbrust American, a Texas-based mask company. “We need government support right now. Because unfair pressure from China is killing this new industry. before legislators are given a chance to resolve the issue.”
The association is planning to file an unfair trade complaint with the World Trade Organization. They claim that most of the protective gear imported from China is sold for less than the cost of production. The price of some Chinese-made masks has recently dropped to as little as 1 cent. Compared to about 10 to 15 cents for masks in the US. using locally produced raw materials
“This is a full-blown economic war,” said Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of Florida-based medical suture company DemeTech. said earlier this month Lay off 1,500 workers who make masks.
He said that in the coming weeks, another 500 employees producing N95 masks are also likely to be released.
“China is on a mission to make sure no one in the industry survives. So far they have won,” Arguello said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
Bureau of International Trade Administration which is a department of the Ministry of Commerce It declined to say whether it would support an anti-competitive complaint against China. A spokesman for the agency said in a statement: It “continues to closely monitor market trends and evaluate options to ensure that American manufacturers are competing on an equal playing field.”
US Trade Representative Office which advises the president on trade policy not responding to interview requests
Massive inexpensive imports also affect other medical device manufacturers Merrow Manufacturing. 183 year old textile company in Fall River, Massachusetts. produce an improbable product since underwear bulletproof vest to the oil tank cover It entered the surgical gown business last year. Part of this comes from the despair of hospitals across New England, which suddenly cannot get medical supplies from China.
“Our phone rang so many people asked if we could help,” said Charlie Murrow, a company executive with his brother.
Hundreds of workers were quickly retrained. Hiring dozens of people And after a $10 million refurbishment, Merrow’s sewing machines produced 700,000 coats a week last summer. The governor of Massachusetts stopped at the plant to voice their efforts. The governor of Rhode Island describes Merrows as a hero.
Few hospitals are currently making the claim, and Merrow recently halted production after the number of unsold gowns soared to 1 million. that company Unlikely to stand a chance against a similar product from China that sells for $6.
“It’s really a wasted opportunity for the country. when you consider that our national security is at risk,” he said.
The Merrows is committed to being in the protective gear business. They were spinning to make scrubs and other medical clothing made from recycled materials, but other companies have decided to give up.
National Filters, a manufacturer of face masks in Harbor Beach, Michigan, stopped production earlier this month, and Protective Health Gear, a one-year-old mask start-up based in Paterson. New Jersey Few more weeks to lay off the remaining 40 employees.
“We’re hanging by a thread,” said chief executive Brian Wolin.
The industry’s shake-up is no surprise to Mike Bowen, co-owner of Prestige Ameritech, a Texas company that is one of the largest mask makers in the country. Bowen, which has been in business since 1986, has warned Washington political leaders. It has long been about the country’s dependence on foreign suppliers.
“I have a letter to the president, 14 years, members of Congress. and hospital administrators told them that A lot of people are dying without serious changes. And that’s what happened,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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