The COVID-19 pandemic continues to reach new heights in the US. As new coronavirus variants emerge, the vaccine rollout remains sluggish, and quarantine fatigue has set in, it’s clear that masks continue to play a critical role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The President’s recent act asking Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks also underscores the crucial importance of masks as a public health tool in managing this epidemic.
Studies have shown that masks significantly decrease transmission chances, but not all masks provide equal protection. N95 masks are ideal in personal protective equipment (PPE) because they block 95% of large and small particles utilizing a unique electrostatic filter. European countries such as Germany and France have already taken that step, mandating all citizens wear high filtration masks like the N95 in all public spaces. Furthermore, in the US, some strongly believe that if worn for four weeks in risky scenarios, the N95 would stop the epidemic. So, why aren’t more in use in the US?
The short answer is supply. While the Biden administration has committed to invoking the Defense Production Act to boost manufacturing of N95s, it will take a commitment from capable domestic manufacturers to step in and get production where it needs to be. Increasing the output of N95 masks could also improve the general public’s protection as most Americans are still wearing cloth masks, which are not as effective. And like the early days of the pandemic demonstrated, sourcing these critical supplies from foreign countries (and suppliers) at a time of crisis is not a timely, effective, or capable solution.
American-made manufacturing can respond and scale to answer national PPE needs in a difficult manner for foreign bodies to match. US-based N95s can ship to market faster and provide the same or often better quality at a competitive price. Moreover, full control of the manufacturing process will ensure lasting quality, safety and eliminate potential price gouging. Domestic production will also allow first responders and medical personnel to conduct fit testing in the factory and permit rapid prototyping and testing of future PPE products.
Shawmut and our partner, The Fallon Company, have recognized this emergent need and developed in record time an innovative world-class US process and N95 product to supply a nation and people in crisis. We have committed nearly $20 million to build a state-of-the-art N95 production plant with the capacity to produce 180 million masks per year. We’re bringing real PPE solutions to the table using agile development techniques to take the plant from concept to production in less than five months.
We installed the world’s most advanced melt blown filter media production system through our partnership with The Fallon Company, from Reifenhauser, a German manufacturer, and a fully automated and flexible molded cup-mask production system. Molded cups are the gold standard in N95 masks but also the most challenging to manufacture. This level of skillful engineering and quality materials is crucial in a market rife with fakes. It also provides a unique combination of a secure fit and all-day comfort that will help broaden the everyday use of N95 masks. Our new buildout for cutting-edge N95 manufacturing is on track to open in February.
We are committed to helping ensure our country will never run out of N95 masks again. And we are at the ready, looking to be part of the solution to this ever-pressing pandemic.