With flu season rapidly approaching, the United States planned to be prepared with 300 million N95 respirator masks for front line healthcare workers. As of Sept. 25, however, the government had only stockpiled 87.6 million N95 masks, according to a briefing document sent to the Department of Health and Human Services obtained by Yahoo News.
This leaves the government short of more than 200 million N95 masks. The federal government was already in possession of 13 million when the coronavirus pandemic first broke out. That means around 70 million have been collected since. Healthcare workers, in particular, are wondering where they will find N95 masks if the government is unable to provide them.
This year’s flu season will likely present an additional challenge to hospitals. Experts are concerned that influenza and COVID-19 will converge to create the unique scenario of a “twindemic” if not enough Americans opt-in for a flu shot. Increasingly colder weather will also prevent outdoor social distancing in many parts of the country. This, when combined with states continuing to reopen, could overwhelm hospitals with sick patients and insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We have an aspiration to eventually have a billion of those,” an administration official said during a May 14 press call with reporters. “We do anticipate having 300 million. So you can do the math: 13 million to 300 million.”
It’s unclear what was intended by the wording “eventually,” but currently the U.S. government appears to have fallen more than two-thirds below its goal.
The shortage is partly due to manufacturers in the United States not having the capacity to produce enough melt-blown textiles. These nonwoven, porous fabrics can filter liquids and gases and are used in manufacturing N95 masks.
President Donald Trump also opted not to invoke the Defense Production Act. The federal law allows the government to temporarily “commandeer” private businesses to accept and prioritize contracts for materials deemed necessary for national security. Instead, the Trump administration attempted to coax manufacturers into taking on the monumental task.
The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health endorses N95 respirator masks because they provide better protection to the wearer than cloth or surgical face masks. As the name suggests, these masks filter out 95% of particles in the air.
When the U.S. was seeing shortages in April, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency authorization to acquire 49 million KN95 masks certified by China. These masks are less reliable, however, and a recent study concluded that 70% didn’t meet the required filtration standards.
Read more on coronavirus face coverings:
- Yes, you should STILL be wearing a face mask during the pandemic
- Pandemic experts say we may live with masks for years
- Should you wear eye shields to protect yourself from the coronavirus?
- Should you be wearing a face mask AND a face shield during the pandemic?
- Not all masks are effective against COVID-19: Here’s a ranking of how safe they are
- No, wearing a face mask during the pandemic will not weaken your immune system
- How face masks are affecting the deaf and hard of hearing community
- What’s the difference between an N95, an N99, and a R95 face mask?