In January my brother Joe in Hong Kong called to tell us the stores were out of surgical masks as fear of coronavirus spread in China.
We sent Joe and his family a box of surgical masks, hand sanitizers, gloves and Zicam.
But today the surgical masks are out in most stores in America.
This is a serious issue now facing Americans.
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As the deadly coronavirus suddenly spreads, paralyzing cities in China and infecting thousands in more than a dozen other countries, medical face masks are suddenly one of the world’s hottest commodities.
The Chinese government has ordered citizens to don masks every time they go outside. Once used, medical professionals advise a mask to be replaced with a fresh one, driving an explosion in demand.
Amid shortages and soaring prices of masks, scenes of people lined up for hours to get a protective face covering, only to be turned away when pharmacies run out, have become familiar.
Footage documented by China’s citizen journalists, showing the Chinese government dragging people kicking and screaming to mass quarantine camps around the epicenter of the outbreak, has lit up the world wide web.
Those unable to obtain masks face merciless backlash.
A man to enter village without wearing a face mask ang fit beaten up by locals … again, there are face mask supply shortage in China, maybe he just couldn’t buy one. #CoronaVirus #WHO #CoronaVirusOutbreak #NovelCoronaVirus#WuhanCoronavirus #武汉肺炎
— me•media 迷 • 媒体 (@oznzusukca) February 9, 2020
“The epidemic is a demon, and we cannot let this demon hide,” warns Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Chinese community officers are even ruthlessly beating stray dogs to death in broad daylight to prevent them from spreading the virus.
The coronavirus poses an imminent national security threat that would induce the implosion of the U.S economy and beget an unprecedented “health security” crisis, predicts Mike Bowen, executive vice president of Prestige Ameritech, the sole full-line surgical mask manufacturer in America.
More than 90 percent of surgical masks and respirators sold in the United States are produced overseas, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
China typically produces approximately half the world’s sanitary face masks — around 20 million a day, or more than seven billion a year, while Taiwan makes 20 percent of the global supply. However, people are not showing up to the factories or their jobs, crippling the communist country’s economy. The virus has cut production down to approximately 10 million daily, which is not even enough to meet the current demand in China.
If factories in China continuously fail to operate at full strength, the global supply chain for even the most specialized products would cause large-scale global disruption. At any given time, these countries could easily cut off the U.S. supply chain, leaving Ameritech Prestige as the last line of America’s defense amid biological warfare.
“We make 7 percent of the [global] mask supply,” Bowen explained on Steve Bannon’s “War Room: Pandemic” podcast. “China has steadily been taking away our mask business. In a few years, it will all be owned by China – they sell the mask for less than I can buy the material.
“America’s hospitals want to save money. The way America’s hospitals buy products – it’s all rigged. GPO, group purchasing organization, bid these things out. They’re looking for the low price, that’s China. That’s why all this happening.”
The most effective mask, known as the N95 respirator, is designed to filter at least 95% of airborne particles and more sufficiently protects against the spread of virus-laden droplets than surgical masks.
China currently produces approximately 600,000 of N95 masks daily, according to figures from the Ministry of Industry. Hospitals do not stockpile these high-quality masks and typically have enough to last just two weeks.
“We are not the only manufacturer of N95s,” Bowens said. “We are the only surgical mask manufacturer still left in the USA –that’s no small thing because the N95 supply rests on the foundation of the surgical mask supply and if it collapses the N95 supply will immediately collapse.”
Last month, China, Taiwan and India banned the export of face masks to reserve them for desperate residents. India removed the ban earlier this month. Thailand limited exports of surgical masks earlier this month. As a result, pharmacies in the U.S. are reporting supply shortages. According to a new survey conducted by the National Community Pharmacists Association, nearly 96 percent of U.S. pharmacists said the coronavirus has led to shortages and nearly 40 percent don’t have enough N95 respirators as retailers wait to restock shelves.
As the coronavirus metastasized across 24 countries, Prestige Ameritech is receiving international orders to outsource its supply from foreign governments, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
“There is 200 times more demand than there is supply,” Bowen said. “My phone is ringing every two minutes, every one minute I am getting an email. I had to change my email address so that I could actually see emails from my customers.”
For over a decade, Bowen warmed government officials of the insecure U.S. mask supply, but those who had the power to preemptively remedy the situation brushed him off.
“I’ve been preaching this American-made story since 2007. Nobody listened. “The whole mass market was only interested in price,” he said. “I’ve been everywhere for 14 years trying to get people to listen. I’ve talked to congressmen. I’ve talked to generals. I’ve written the president. I wrote President Obama five or six letters and he sent me a presidential proclamation on pandemics suitable for framing.”
The Department of Health and Human Service confirmed America’s mask makers had left the country in 2007 and HHS official met with Prestige Ameritech, Bowen explained, only to conclude the department merely had “authority to study the problem.”
As of Feb. 18, a total of 72,436 people are confirmed to have been infected with the disease in China, while 1,868 people have died, according to the Chinese government.
Professor Gabriel Leung, the founding director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Infection Disease Epidemiology and Control in Hong Kong, estimates the number of people infected by the Wuhan coronavirus will double every six days and could potentially infect 60 to 90 percent of the world in the next couple of years unless public health authorities impose “substantial draconian measures to limit population mobility.”
People need to be prepared for the outbreak to become a global epidemic though it is “not a certainty by any stretch of the imagination…we must prepare better for it,” he told reporters in January.
The government’s apathy to the impending crisis, makes it near impossible to adequately supply the demand for masks upon the coronavirus hitting the U.S. and precipitously expanding the Prestige is a financial liability, Bowen argued.
“It’s too little too late,” he said. When the Ebola pandemic caused global panic, “we hired 150 people, we built new machines. Everybody said they’d stay with us. The day after the pandemic, they forgot who we were. We nearly went out of business. I had to sell 5 percent of the company to survive in 2011.
“The [Center for Disease Control] needs to get involved and they need to tell America’s hospitals what they’ve been telling me – this is a national security problem and they should buy American masks. The Department of Defense should stop letting our warfighters rely on a mask supply that’s controlled by a foreign government. I can’t help everybody right now. We are going to help as many hospitals as we can. It takes months to build a mass machine.”
The United States is also entirely reliant on Chinese manufacturing for nearly all pharmaceutical drugs, generic prescriptions and over-the-counter product supplements and medicines – including penicillin and vitamin C. If US-China tensions worsen, China could cut off antibiotic exports, throwing our hospitals into turmoil.
Bannon, a former top adviser to President Donald Trump, warns these foreign dependencies are at the heart of what it means to be made in America.
“In order to have a secure nation, it’ more than just tanks and soldiers and missiles, there is health security. We are now paying the true cost of the China price, with this just-in-time inventory,” he said. “This globalization– it wasn’t just about taking jobs, which is bad enough, it wasn’t just about stripping our factories out of here– it’s left us exposed as a nation.
“We are now supplicants to our enemies. That is unacceptable and I know that is one of the reasons why Donald Trump is president of the United States.”