Here I'm referring to the company that makes highly coveted PPE that prevents the spread of coronavirus. I wouldn't single them out specifically if they were not the most effective and prolific maker of PPE in the US though, so to be fair, the same can apply to all makers of advanced protective equipment, specifically advanced air/breathing filtration masks.
Since announcement of a perilously increasing spread of coronavirus in the US was made around February 2020 by news outlets, a response by the White House was made to increase N95 mask production by the already huge company under the Defense Production Act (DPA).
In January 2020, as I heard news of the devastating spread of a new virus was occurring in China I became worried. I told colleagues in our office that this may be a big one... Not patting myself on the back, but in response, we switched our ordering of computers to laptops that we could take home and began to develop work from home policies and connectivity just before the first "stay-at-home" orders by states were issued. Sure enough, just weeks after my initial concerns were raised, we ended up all working from home from that point until now. It's tragic, but we're very lucky to have that privilege. I ache when I think about all the other people at risk through the pandemic that don't have adequate protection as things escalate.
While shopping in Home Depot for less necessary things back in January 2020, I also became inspired to pick up a few breathing/filtration masks because of the news of the surging pandemic in Wuhan... They were already a bit pricey for what they were, at $20 for a box of 10 N95 masks, but they seemed to be a good thing to have with the looming threat, and not so expensive considering the feelings of concern I had for what now has proven to be a devastating and long period of siege of pretty much every state and city worldwide. I only bought one box myself because I try to not be a hoarder, and I couldn't have imagined the pandemic would have carried on for as long as it has since back then.
The one box of masks I purchased ran out quickly during the early days of lockdown, I only used them for shopping at stores and home outings (doctor visits etc)... I went back to Home Depot just weeks later to seek replacement N95 masks only to find everyone suddenly out of them, and horrifyingly elevated price gouging on masks that were found in stores and online (especially on Amazon). I don't fault the up-sellers though, we all had no idea of how long and vast reaching the pandemic would become... Toilet paper and hand sanitizer also became the icons of the price-gouging response to the uncertain future we faced in 2020. Thank goodness supply of sanitizer and toilet paper have risen to finally meet demand though, and the most greedy of opportunistic pandemic hoarders are now stuck with warehouses full of invaluable product karma, but supply and demand became a real issue in a country that we thought was fool-proof in the most basic supply aspects like erm... Toilet paper.
Bathroom and cleanliness supplies also disappeared in stores at the time too, many things like Lysol wipes are still rare finds in many stores and online, or only available at increased price. We had waves of disappearing supplies occur during the early days and throughout the entire pandemic experience thus far... Factories closed at times because of employee sickness, budget cuts, and shortages. Some production lines closed early in the pandemic (wisely so) in order to protect employees and to sure up their defenses against the siege presented, leading to many missing items and services that were vital to many people who were seeking comfort and support during this unexpected period of emotional and health torment.
In the early days of the pandemic, Most worrisome to me was that that $20 box of dispose-able 3M masks that I bought in January were suddenly only available from highly questionable sellers in February for $300+. That was the worst case of artificial price inflation/markup I had personally observed since trying to buy second hand seller tickets for a Prince concert in 2015... The difference here was that I could still live on (albeit in a depressed state) if I didn't get the Prince tickets (I did see the show though and it was his last in DC ever and amazing with Stevie Wonder as a guest) but getting a box of protective masks became a fearful issue as reports of death surged in the US with absolutely NO INDICATION of when proper masks would be available to us in the general public.
Many companies began making custom and designer masks for consumers to buy at exorbitant prices, and they quickly became low-functioning gear for the most socially conscious of us. Although masks sold for really ridiculous prices, and though I opted to use the less expensive "shirt tied around my face" method, I began to be highly concerned about the effectiveness of the use of less-engineered and purpose-specific pandemic protection because numbers indicating infection continued to increase. As I had to shop for food entering closed spaces, I was constantly thinking of how dangerous indoor air had become in increasing spread of coronavirus. I asked myself countless times, and posted on Twitter (@circuitBored.Com TWITTER PLUG) numerous inquiries to politicians and personnel about the need to make N95 masks more available to the general public to barely any official response or concern at all. There is clear scientific evidence that N95 masks are more effective than regular cloth and other non-certified protective masks in stopping the spread of coronavirus... We simply cannot carry on with the assumption that improper masks are helping adequately and sufficiently as infection numbers rise.
I think we've become complacent with accountability and with the lack of real actionable information during this pandemic. We simply can't allow a lack of vital information, accountability, and disinformation of this kind to preside, especially when we are dealing with saving lives during a pandemic. This is why I'm raising this question once again. What is the status of 3M mask production, and when will the more protective masks be available to the general public? I felt I'd ask the question here because asking on social media sites has proven to be too easy for everyone to overlook and ignore.
A stockpile of PPE was declared as a priority as a part of the White House's declaration to re-enact the DPA in February 2020, and production was reported to already be in an accelerated mode by 3M company management at the time. Since then, as I've observed news carefully on this matter, it seems like no further attention had been paid to the matter, and complacency with unavailability of the vitally (more protective) N95 masks simply became a status-quo.
Debate all you want about mask effectiveness, for me they have been used in hospitals for centuries to prevent contraction of harmful air pollutants, and that's all I need to know in order to understand that they are a primary aspect of protection and a vital step in reducing the spread of coronavirus at this particular point in time. I understand the sensitivity of the issue, as I've looked into several debates, but wearing a mask when indoors or close to other is not any real inconvenience for most people in life, so I think debating that issue is wasted time personally, while the damage that coronavirus pandemic has done to our world is very evident and real.
Here is a rather comprehensive video detailing the effectiveness of masks that non-believers can review and debate with perhaps...
Those of us with empathy for others should listen to scientists and health professionals on the matter of masks. Even Dr. Drew, a well-known celebrity doctor that dismissed the pandemic early-on, realized the error of his statements on not wearing masks when he contracted the virus recently:
We cannot afford to be arrogant about this pandemic. We need to be more responsible and to have a better coordinated pandemic response STAT. We need to reject mis-information, the current lack of accountability, complacency, and vigilance now because the issues we face are getting worse, and this is now clearly a life-and-death matter.
The virus is again surging once again at the end of 2020, worldwide. Many months after the February 2020 announcement was made concerning the DPA, 3M N95 masks are still commandeered from retailers and directly from the production lines under the Defense Production Act, and some care providers regularly cite an inability to get the protection they need. The masks are even more evasive for access to the general public, and they are a vital missing step in stopping the increasing spread of the virus.
Additional reading on the DPA in regards to 3M masks: https://www.npr.org/2020/04/03/82694544 ... and-export (External Link)
There is no question that health care workers and first responders need to be protected and supported first in these times. It's also important for us to reaffirm that stopping the spread should include ramped-up production to prevent contraction of the virus in the general population as a second step that should have been accounted for a long time ago, and it may have prevented this second resurgence if it was properly accounted for. Perhaps production needs to be ramped up even more by mask manufacturers like 3M, this pandemic, and the need for masks will not go away any time soon as a justification in the investment, and in ending harmful price gouging currently underway.
In order to respond firmly to and end the coronavirus pandemic, every aspect of a solution is important. It's important to have points of reference for progress. News of vaccine development and distribution is another point that is getting good coverage as well, but a very slow roll-out. In the mean-time, asking what the heck is going on with PPE development and distribution is a critically overlooked point that needs a solid status update. Let's all get this right this time by improving our protection for everyone equally.
So just what in holy heck is going on with 3M mask production?
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