By Lauren White, RCS Reporter.
As news of the coronavirus spread, people began stocking up on toilet paper and face masks to protect themselves. The panic buying that ensued has led to a shortage of face masks for healthcare workers on the front lines.
N95 masks, which are commonly used in construction and healthcare, “are tight-fitting respirators that filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, including large and small particles,” according to Engineering News-Record.
However, it has been reported that these masks won’t prevent people from getting infected by the coronavirus. Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. Surgeon General urged people to stop buying masks in a tweet saying, “They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
On March 17, during a White House press conference, Vice President Mike Pence called for face mask donations to health care facilities. The Washington Examiner reported, “The call follows new legislation from Congress changing the liability status of masks that are typically used in construction and manufacturing to be allowed for use in hospitals.” The hope is that this decision will help relieve the face mask shortage.
“We would make one specific request, and that is we would urge construction companies to donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital and forgo additional orders of those industrial masks,” Vice President Mike Pence stated. “...Those industrial masks that they use on construction sites are perfectly acceptable for healthcare workers to be protected from the respiratory disease.”
After the press conference, an email from the Associated General Contractors was sent out to its members stating, “It is our view that this should be considered as a voluntary gesture and not a mandate...Of course, any firm with a surplus of masks should consider donating them to health care providers. We will remain focused on keeping the construction industry operating and its workers safely working.”
Many construction companies are checking their inventories and donating what they can to their local hospitals. Suffolk Construction, in Boston, Massachusetts, donated over 1,250 N95 masks to Mass General Brigham, a Boston hospital network. The firm reached out to other construction companies in the area, encouraging them to donate their masks, “so they can be used to protect patients and medical personnel during this time of great need,” according to Daniel Antonellis, vice president of marketing and communications at Suffolk Construction.
Kuharchik Construction, based in Exeter, Pennsylvania, also donated more than 1,000 3M N95 masks and 100 3M 8511 respirators to various establishments including nursing homes, health care facilities, and other emergency workers. CEO Robert Bresnahan shared, “After the suggestion from Vice President Mike Pence to check their inventories, we realized we had more than 1,000 of these in stock and we felt this was our chance to do something.” The firm kept a few for their workers who risk silica exposure during work, but donated the rest of their inventory. Robert explained, “We’re going to do what we can and I encourage every other business leader to see how they can help.”
The day after the press conference, President Trump announced that the Defense Production Act of 1950 would be invoked to increase the production of protective masks and other gear. The Defense Act was established in response to the start of the Korean War. During emergencies, this act grants the government more control to direct industrial production. The Federal Emergency Management Agency describes the act as, “the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base to support military, energy, space, and homeland security programs,” as reported by CNN.
3M is working nonstop to continue producing thousands of 3M N95 respirators. Their products are being manufactured around the world in the United States, China, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. According to 3M, “Our manufacturing model emphasizes local for local. For example, the majority of our products made in the United States are sold in the United States.”
Tim Hofer, a 3M machine operator working at the Aberdeen, South Dakota plant, stated, “We know what we have to do, we know we need to keep our numbers up, we know we need to keep ourselves safe, and we need to put out great quality...And that’s what we’ve come here to do.” 3M typically manufactures millions of respirators each month, however, they expect demand to outpace supply for the foreseeable future.
3M chairman and chief executive officer, Mike Roman stated, “We are committed to balanced distribution of our products that both supports the response to COVID-19 and ensures product availability to our existing industrial and healthcare customers who rely on our products...Unfortunately, with the evolving situation, more of our production capacity must be dedicated to supplying healthcare and government/emergency response. We have notified our authorized distributors that we are prioritizing order to help serve our base business— including hospitals— due to high global demand.”
The generous donations from construction companies are making a difference to doctors, nurses, emergency response professionals, and healthcare providers, who are facing shortages and risking their health to care for and heal others. Check your inventory of face masks and respirators, reserve what is necessary to keep your workers safe, and donate the rest to those who are working tirelessly to save thousands of people infected by the coronavirus.
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