Mar 28, 2020 - Health

The race to make more masks and ventilators

Andrew Martinez lines up fabric cutouts that will become masks at Xtreme Pro Apparel on March 23, 2020 in Broomfield, Colorado.

Fabric cutouts that will become masks are lined up at Xtreme Pro Apparel on March 23 in Broomfield, Colo. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

The U.S. is scouring the globe and leaning on non-medical manufacturers to help overcome shortages of ventilators, masks, gloves and gowns.

Why it matters: Nearly 90% of U.S. mayors who responded to a national survey on coronavirus preparedness said they lack sufficient tests kits, face masks and other protective equipment for their emergency responders and medical workers, the Washington Post reports.

  • 85% said their hospitals do not have enough ventilators.

By the numbers: Cities that were able to provide estimates reported a need for 28.5 million face masks, 24.4 million personal protective gear items like gowns and gloves, 7.9 million test kits and 139,000 ventilators.

  • But the numbers don't come close to reflecting the full picture.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates hospitals will need up to 3.5 billion medical-grade N95 respirator masks over a year, CNBC reports.

  • The Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency stockpile of drugs and medical supplies, has 12 million N95 masks and 30 million surgical face masks on hand — or 1% of what's needed, per CNBC.

Demand for hospital resources is projected to peak in early April in many states, and nationwide on April 14, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

  • On that day, they project almost 19,000 ventilators will be needed nationwide, and it predicts a shortage of 49,000 hospital beds, including nearly 15,000 intensive-care beds.

Where it stands: Trump said Friday that the administration is working with about 10 ventilator companies to increase production, and will make or obtain 100,000 of the machines over the next 100 days.

  • He's ordering General Motors and a partner, Ventec Life Systems, to produce them under the wartime Defense Production Act.
  • The companies say they could ramp up to as many as 10,000 ventilators a month by the end of April, up from 250 per month today.
  • GE Healthcare, Philips, Hamilton Medical and other companies are also scrambling to sharply increase ventilator production, with help from other automakers.

Masks are another big need. Production is sharply increasing, and the government is soliciting donations of tens of millions of N95 masks certified for other purposes like construction.

  • Honeywell is hiring 500 additional workers and gearing up to produce more respirator masks, but says it'll take up to 30 days to set up an additional manufacturing plant.
  • 3M says it has doubled its N95 manufacturing output and is now producing 35 million a month in the United States.
  • Tens of millions of additional N95 masks targeted for construction uses can now be sold to hospitals, thanks to new legislation signed last week.
  • Apple has donated 9 million N95 masks, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday.
  • Many hospitals are starting to disinfect and reuse respirator masks while they wait for backlogged supply.

What to watch: The demand for masks could increase dramatically. Some experts say more Americans should wear masks to help reduce the spread of the virus, especially by people who don't have symptoms of the disease, per NYT.

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