US companies that produced masks and protective gear during the coronavirus pandemic are in danger of going out of business after a sharp drop in sales due to Chinese imports.
Industry experts have noted that products from China are priced so low that it will be nearly impossible for domestic companies to compete, and many have already started laying off workers.
Owners of these companies warn that the effect could be devastating for the United States if the country were to face another national health emergency.
A report of The New York Times has disclosed that at least three companies have discontinued production of surgical masks and medical gowns.
Industry experts have noted that products from China are priced so low that it will be nearly impossible for domestic companies to compete and many have already laid off employees
Others have been forced to scale back production, including a year-old surgical mask maker in Virginia who has laid off most of its 280 employees.
“Our industry is in ‘break-glass’ mode,” Brent Dillie, the co-owner of the company called Premium-PPE, told the New York Times.
“In six months, many of us will be gone and that won’t be good for America the next time there is a public health emergency.”
At the start of the pandemic, a number of start-ups, including Premium-PP, stepped in to address the dangerous shortage of protective equipment for frontline workers, which health experts say most likely contributed to the high contamination rate.
China stopped exporting protective clothing at the start of the pandemic, but has since returned to the market with prices sometimes as low as a tenth of what US factories now charge for comparable products.
The Biden administration is now under pressure to ensure that health workers are adequately protected should the United States hit another crisis.
Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of DemeTech, a Florida medical suture company that fired 1,500 workers making surgical masks earlier this month, is pictured on the factory floor
DemeTech fears an additional 500 other workers who make N95 masks are likely to be fired in the coming weeks as well
A yearlong study conducted by The Guardian and Kaiser Health News entitled Lost on the FrontLine found that more than 3,600 U.S. health workers died in the pandemic’s first year.
The series of research reports found that many of these deaths could have been prevented and identified widespread shortages of masks and other personal protective equipment as one of the main factors contributing to the increased risk faced by health professionals.
According to Tim Manning, the Covid-19 White House Supply Coordinator, the government is addressing the challenges facing domestic personal protective equipment manufacturers, but companies say they need more substantial trade policies and supply chain reforms to cope with water.
Earlier this month, the CDC updated its recommendations, saying that fully vaccinated Americans should not wear masks in most outdoor and indoor conditions.
Masks are produced at the start-up of United Safety Tech. At the outbreak of the pandemic, a number of start-ups stepped in to address the shortage of protective equipment for frontline workers
Those who have not been vaccinated are still at risk and must continue to wear masks and social distance.
Masks are still required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation in the US, as well as transportation hubs such as airports and train stations.
The relaxation of mask mandates has led to a decline in demand for protective equipment, but industry insiders say the influx of cheap Chinese equipment is even more damaging.
The trade group The American Mask Manufacturer’s Association told The New York Times that its 27 members had already laid off half of their workforce.
The group plans to file a complaint about unfair trade with the World Trade Organization, stating that much of the equipment imported from China is sold for less than the cost of manufacturing in the United States.
Employees will work in a medical mask and jumpsuits factory in Nantong, Jiangsu province, China in January 2020. China exported more than 220 billion face masks last year
China exported more than 220 billion face masks in 2020, making the country the only major economy in the world to grow last year.
In January, Deputy Commerce Minister Qian Keming told reporters that in addition to masks, China exported 2.3 billion pieces of protective equipment and one billion test kits last year.
The mask shipments alone were worth 340 billion yuan (£ 38.5 billion), a customs official revealed. “(The volume) is equivalent to providing nearly 40 masks to every person in the world outside of China,” said customs spokesperson Li Kuiwen.
Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of DemeTech, a Florida medical suture company, described the influx of cheap Chinese products as “ full-blown economic warfare. ”
Earlier this month, 1,500 workers making surgical masks for DemeTech were fired, and another 500 workers making N95 masks are also likely to be fired in the coming weeks.
He told The New York Times, “China is on a mission to make sure no one in the industry survives, and so far they are winning.”