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In Congress, a bipartisan support bill would provide $ 500 million annually over the next three years to support domestic manufacturers of essential medical devices.
While industry managers praise these moves, they say time is running out. The American Mask Manufacturer’s Association, a recently 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 collapse within the next two months.
An immediate boost would be the repeal of the CDC guidelines born during the pandemic, which force health workers to repeatedly reuse N95 masks even though they are supposed to be thrown away after contact with each patient. Many hospitals are still adhering to guidelines, despite the 260 million masks gathering dust in warehouses across the country.
“We are not looking for endless government support,” said Lloyd Armbrust, the association’s president and founder and CEO of Armbrust American, a mask manufacturer in Texas. “We need government support now because unfair pressure from China will kill this new industry before lawmakers have a chance to solve the problem.”
The association plans to file an unfair trade lawsuit with the World Trade Organization (WTO), claiming that much of the protective equipment imported from China is sold below cost of production. The price of some surgical masks made in China has recently dropped to just 1 cent, compared to around 10 to 15 cents for American masks that use domestically produced raw materials.
“This is a full economic war,” said Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of DemeTech, a Florida medical suture company that laid off 1,500 workers who made surgical masks earlier this month. He said 500 other workers who make N95 masks would likely be laid off in the coming weeks.
“China is on a mission to make sure no one in the industry survives and so far they are winning,” said Arguello.