In Congress, a bill with bipartisan support would allocate $ 500 million in annual spending over the next three years to support domestic manufacturers of vital medical equipment.
While industry executives welcome these measures, they say time is running out. The American Mask Manufacturer’s Association, a newly formed trade group, said its 27 members have already laid off 50 percent of their workforce. Without concerted action from Washington, most of these companies will go bankrupt within the next two months.
An immediate boost, they say, would be to reverse CDC guidelines, born during the pandemic, which require health workers to repeatedly reuse N95 masks, even if they are designed to be discarded after contact. with each patient. Many hospitals are still following the guidelines, even as 260 million masks accumulate dust in warehouses across the country.
“We are not looking for endless support from the government,” said Lloyd Armbrust, president of the association and founder and CEO of Armbrust American, a mask manufacturing company in Texas. “We need government support now, as unfair pressure from China will kill this new industry before lawmakers have a chance to fix the problem. “
The association plans to file an unfair trade complaint with the World Trade Organization, saying much of the protective gear imported from China sells for less than the cost of production. The price of some Chinese-made surgical masks recently fell to 1 cent, compared to around 10 to 15 cents for American masks that use raw materials produced in the country.
“This is an economic war in its own right,” said Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of DemeTech, a medical sutures company in Florida that earlier this month laid off 1,500 workers who made surgical masks. He said that over the next few weeks another 500 workers who make N95 masks would also likely be made redundant.
“China’s mission is to make sure that no one in the industry survives, and so far they are winning,” Arguello said.