In an attempt to keep up with demand, Prestige Ameritech’s management team is working 80-hour weeks, bringing previously idle machines online, and hiring and training dozens of new employees to augment its staff of around 100. Back in what Bowen calls the “peacetime,” before the pandemic, Prestige Ameritech made roughly 250,000 masks a day. Now the company has ramped production up to 1 million masks a day.But even that isn’t enough. “Since February 1, we’ve had to turn down orders for 100 million masks or more a day on average,” Bowen says. “Sometimes, we turn down 200 million or 300 million [masks] a day. It’s kind of surreal.”
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US mask manufacturers say they are experiencing unprecedented demand. With the pandemic and trade restrictions pressuring already-overwhelmed global supply chains, companies are struggling to keep up. Like much of the mask manufacturing industry, industrial giant 3M has been ramping up production since January—including expanding the output of its US based factories, hosting job fairs, and hiring employees on the spot. Yet some US hospitals are still unable to obtain new shipments of surgical masks and N95 respirators.“There’s a really, really high demand for respirators and really all other products being used in response to the coronavirus to help treat and protect people,” Jennifer Ehrlich, communications manager for 3M told WIRED. “It’s more demand than any one company can supply, and we expect it to remain high for the foreseeable future.”
Lyft shares have fallen more than 20 percent since the IPO.A few business lines weighed down the company in the quarter, executives said. Lyft expects its revenue per active rider to stay flat through the coming summer months—peak scootin’ time, which might steal riders away from the company's higher-margin ride-hail services.
Has the coronavirus pandemic caused unexpected or unique challenges in your industry? Do you or someone you know have the virus, or think you may have the virus but have been unable to receive testing? Tell us your story. Send us an email at [email protected], or reach out securely via Signal at +1 (267) 797-8655.One reason is that over the last two decades China has become the primary manufacturer for the world’s masks and respirators. When the virus swept through China in late 2019 and early 2020, the country’s increased need for masks dealt a double whammy to the global supply. The US is particularly reliant on China for masks and other medical gear. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 95 percent of surgical masks and 70 percent of respirators used in the US are made overseas, and China is one of the biggest producers.
“We were already in the middle of a bad flu season, and now we’re having a pandemic in the middle of the flu. Couple that with with American hospitals gearing up, people panic buying, and China now cutting off a good portion of the masks they send to the US—it’s a perfect storm,” says Bowen.
That’s led to a lot of hard decisions for manufacturers. Faced with hundreds of millions of orders a day, and a limited number of masks, Prestige Ameritech decided to sell only to hospitals, rather than the general public, and has prioritized working with medical centers that will sign five-year contracts, to reduce the likelihood that the company will have to lay off all its new employees once the pandemic subsides.
The policy is rooted in history. The last time the country faced a comparable mask shortage was during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. To meet increased demand, Prestige Ameritech hired hundreds of new employees and expanded its manufacturing capabilities. But after the outbreak died down, Bowen says that most hospitals that had relied on Prestige Ameritech went back to Chinese suppliers, which typically sell masks and respirators for less than it costs him to produce.