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INDUSTRY NEWS: Amid Coronavirus Fears, a Mask Shortage Could Spread Globally

Author: UCA Admin/Wednesday, February 5, 2020/Categories: Industry News

posted on Wired  ​Feb. 4, 2020

Most of the world's supply of masks and respirators comes from China, and a supply chain gap poses a risk to everyday health care beyond the viral epidemic.

It’s been less than two weeks since the Chinese government quarantined 35 million people in the city of Wuhan and surrounding regions to control the fast-spreading coronavirus, but the images coming from there already have a grim familiarity: empty shops and streets, long queues at hospitals, and on every face, a surgical mask covering everything below the eyes.

The masks’ ubiquity is a signal of people’s panic over the disease, and also of official actions to control the outbreak. Wuhan and several other jurisdictions are now requiring they be worn in public, and footage originally posted to the Chinese social network Weibo shows police officers using drones with loudspeakers to scold people who venture out without one.

But for people who anticipate a pandemic—an expanding epidemic that rapidly crosses borders—the masks blanketing China have an unsettling second meaning. They are a reminder that Chinese manufacturing is the source of most of the world’s masks and respirators. Now that the vast country is using more masks than it ever has before, fewer of them will likely be available to the countries that have been China’s regular customers.

That includes the United States. According to data compiled by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 95 percent of the surgical masks used in the US and 70 percent of the respirators—thicker, tight-fitting masks that offer better protection against viruses—are made overseas. That leaves the mask supply vulnerable to labor disruption if a pandemic sickens manufacturing workers, as well as to flat-out diversion if a government decides to keep its own stock at home.

“This is 100 percent a vulnerability,” says Saskia Popescu, a biosecurity expert who is the senior infection-prevention epidemiologist in an Arizona hospital system. “Personal protective equipment is always going to be a problem when there is an outbreak of something novel, because public health guidance will be unclear at first and there will be a run on supplies. Masks being made offshore is one more stress on the system.”

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE - including a quote from UCA Past President, Sean McNeeley, MD, FCUCM, about the impact in urgent care centers.


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