US companies that have been producing masks and protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic are in danger of going out of business following a severe drop in sales caused by Chinese imports.
Industry experts have noted that products from China are priced so low that it will be almost impossible for domestic companies to compete and many have already begun laying off workers.
Owners of these companies warn that the effect could be devastating for the United States if the country were to face another national health emergency.
A report by The New York Times has revealed that at least three companies have halted production of surgical masks and medical gowns.
Industry experts have noted that products from China are priced so low that it will be almost impossible for domestic companies to compete and many have already laid off workers
Others have been forced to scale back production, including a year-old surgical mask-maker in Virginia that has laid off most of its 280 employees.
‘Our industry is in break-glass mode,’ Brent Dillie, the co-owner of the company named Premium-PPE told the New York Times.
‘Six months from now, many of us won’t be around and that won’t be good for America the next time there’s a national health emergency.’
At the start of the pandemic, a number of start-ups including Premium-PP stepped in to help tackle the dangerous shortage of protective equipment for frontline workers that health experts say most likely contributed to the high rates of infection.
China stopped exports of protective gear at the start of the pandemic, but has since returned to the market with prices that are sometimes just a tenth of what US factories now charge for comparable products.
The Biden Administration is now under pressure to ensure that healthcare workers are adequately protected if another crisis were to hit the United States.
Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of DemeTech, a medical-suture company in Florida that earlier this month laid off 1,500 workers who made surgical masks is pictured on the factory floor
DemeTech fears that another 500 other workers who make N95 masks will also likely be let go in the coming weeks
A year-long study conducted by The Guardian and Kaiser Health News entitled Lost on the FrontLine found that more than 3,600 US healthcare workers died in the first year of the pandemic.
The series of investigative reports found that many of these deaths could have been prevented and identified widespread shortages of masks and other personal protective gear as one of the major contributing factors to the increased risk faced by healthcare workers.
According to Tim Manning, the White House Covid-19 supply coordinator, the administration is addressing the challenges facing domestic producers of PPE, but companies say they need more substantial trade policies and supply-chain reforms in order to stay afloat.
Earlier this month, the CDC updated its recommendations and said fully vaccinated Americans don’t have to wear masks outdoors and indoors, in most circumstances.
Masks are produced at United Safety Tech startup. At the start of the pandemic, a number of start-ups stepped in to help tackle the shortage of protective equipment for frontline workers
Those who aren’t vaccinated are still at risk and required to continue to wear masks and social distance.
Masks are still required on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation in US as well as transportation hubs such as airports and train stations.
The easing of mask mandates has caused a slump in demand for protective gear, but industry insiders say the influx of inexpensive Chinese equipment is even more damaging.
The trade group The American Mask Manufacturer’s Association told The New York Times said its 27 members had already laid off half of their work force.
The group is planning to file an unfair trade complaint with the World Trade Organization stating that much of the equipment being imported from China is selling for less than the cost of production in the United States.
Workers labor in a factory of medical masks and jumpsuits in Nantong, Jiangsu province, China, in January 2020. China exported more than 220 billion face masks last year
China exported more than 220 billion face masks in 2020, helping the country to become the only major economy in the world to grow last year.
In January, vice-minister for commerce Qian Keming told reporters that in addition to masks, China exported 2.3billion pieces of protective gear and one billion test kits last year.
The mask shipments alone were worth 340 billion yuan (£38.5billion), a customs official revealed. ‘(The volume) is equivalent to providing nearly 40 masks to each person in the world outside China,’ said customs spokesman Li Kuiwen.
Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of DemeTech, a medical-suture company in Florida described the influx of inexpensive Chinese products as ‘full-on economic warfare’.
Earlier this month 1,500 workers who made surgical masks for DemeTech were laid off and another 500 other workers who make N95 masks will also likely be let go in the coming weeks.
He told The New York Times: ‘China is on the mission to make sure no one in the industry survives, and so far they’re winning.’