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Monday, March 30, 2020

Masks, Masks, Where Are the Masks?

The media is full of stories of mask rationing and shortages. Health care professionals are reusing masks, slathering them with sanitizer, or substituting scarves in place of surgical masks. Democrats demand that President Trump make more masks immediately using the Wartime Production Act.

But why aren’t there any masks?

Surgical masks, like anything in the medical field, are tightly regulated. You can’t just make a mask. Some masks have to be certified by the FDA and others by the CDC. Some are certified by both the FDA and the CDC.

Until recently, the public had no problem buying N95 respirators for use in construction. These masks are certified by the CDC. Why is the CDC in the business of certifying industrial masks, you may wonder? Because, as discussed previously, the CDC does every possible thing except what people think it does. The component of the CDC that does this is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

NIOSH is not to be confused with OSHA, even though they were created at the same time, through the same law, and serve a very similar function: making this another skein in the infinitely tangled web of the federal bureaucracy.

The Open PPE Project launched an effort to quickly create N95 masks only to be told by NIOSH that approving a new mask production facility would take between 45 and 90 days.

Meanwhile there are reports of large stockpiles of masks sitting around waiting for an FDA inspector.

The United States government has a stockpile of 12 million NIOSH approved masks and 5 million that are expired, and are therefore not approved by NIOSH. Except it may approve some conditionally for use.

The FDA and CDC bureaucracy are not up to speed with the current crisis. There aren’t enough inspectors and the Wuhan Virus won’t wait on inspectors from the FDA or NIOSH to do their job.

Instead of streamlining its approvals and inspection process, the CDC lowered its mask protection recommendation for health care workers on the front lines.

The CDC is willing to tell health care professionals to use scarves, rather than accelerate approvals.

Meanwhile N95 mask manufacturers feared being sued if masks meant for industry were used in surgical settings, which meant that they wouldn’t sell those masks to health care providers. At least not until a law protecting them against lawsuits was passed. All this, of course, took even more time.

Smaller manufacturers have tried to get in the game, only to discover the regulatory challenges of it. Fashion businesses that tried to jump in have settled for trying to make surgical masks that they hope will be FDA certified. Meanwhile the big manufacturers were making masks in the People’s Republic of China. And those masks are not leaving ChiCom territory except by the express will of its government.

Worse still, as the crisis grew, the People’s Republic of China bought up the world’s supply of masks, at one point importing 20 million masks in 24 hours. American companies even eagerly donated masks.

But why was the United States so unprepared for a run on masks before the pandemic arrived?

After Katrina, the Bush administration had set a goal of billions of masks in case of a major disaster. But that goal was never met. When the H1N1 swine flu outbreak arrived, we were badly unprepared.

The last run on masks took place during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak under Obama. Hospitals and health care providers began running low on masks and the Strategic National Stockpile released 85 million N95 masks. The stockpile was never replenished and today there are only 12 million N95s.

There were warnings back then that "maskmaking operations have moved outside the U.S., and 90% of masks sold in the U.S. now come from Mexico or China" and that "Mexico and China would be unlikely to export their supplies before making sure their own populations were fully protected."

While the Obama administration threw billions at assorted solar and wind boondoggles, it failed to invest the money that would have set up reliable mask production in the United States of America. All the experts who claimed that “science” predicted the imminent demise of the planet had been too busy trying to control the weather through higher taxes to spend money on anything as crude as masks.

The secret warehouses where the strategic mask reserve was supposed to be kept are a mess and millions of the masks are expired. New York City asked for millions of masks and got 78,000 expired masks. Oklahoma got 500,000 expired masks. This is the situation, not just at the federal level, but state mask stockpiles, where they exist, also often consisted of storehouses of expired N95 masks.

Had the Bush administration’s National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza been followed, there would be no mask shortage. And had the Obama administration at replaced the masks that it withdrew from the Strategic National Stockpile, we might have had 100 million or so masks in the stockpile.

And had we brought mask manufacturing back to America, we would have a pipeline for making more.

Instead the Wuhan Virus brought a perfect storm, cutting us off from our manufacturing sources in the People’s Republic of China, after the Obama administration had depleted our mask reserve, while regulatory barriers make it difficult for companies quickly get in the game and produce more masks.

President Trump has done his best to cope with a sudden disaster that was decades in the making.

The mask shortage was not a disaster that could have been remedied in January. We were never going to produce a billion masks in two months. The same nation that could turn out armies and fleets in a year would have, but that nation had its manufacturing at home and fewer regulatory barriers.

Big clothing companies like Hanes have tried to step up. As have smaller manufacturers. But the federal bureaucracy has slowed down the process for both distributing existing masks and making new ones. There are plenty of companies eager to make masks, without any Wartime Production Act pressure. They just need a streamlined process that will clear as many of the barriers and delays out of the way.

Meanwhile making new N95 masks requires melt-blown fabric and there’s a global shortage of the machines that produce it because, once again, China has monopolized the marketplace.

Ordering companies to make them by using the Wartime Production Act won’t bring them into being.

All the posturing by Senate Minority Leader Schumer, House Speaker Pelosi, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and the rest of the circus about the Wartime Production Act is just fantasy socialist wargaming.

Outsourcing our industrial base to the People’s Republic of China came with a price. Reconstructing that base won’t just happen overnight. Not when it often has to be done all the way from the ground up.

President Trump had warned us of the danger of our dependency on China’s Communist regime. The Democrats who denied that reality now act as if waving around a piece of legislative paper can make products spring forth out of thin air as long as the right orders are given and enough money is spent.

Real life doesn’t work that way.

The Democrats had many years in which they could have financed American factories making protective gear or at the very least replenished the mask supplies from the swine flu outbreak in 2009. They did none of those things and now want to blame President Trump because he couldn’t snap his fingers and create a billion masks in two months. Meanwhile they failed to restore 85 million masks in 7 years.

If we’re going to learn anything from this crisis, we have to tell the truth and hold them accountable.

Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article previously appeared at the Center's Front Page Magazine.

Thank you for reading.


  1. Meanwhile, my ER RN wife gets one mask for a 12 hour shift, has to wear it the whole shift being afraid to remove and contaminate it and put it back on...will those responsible be held to account? Phht ya right

  2. Anonymous30/3/20

    Some useful context here:


  3. Anonymous30/3/20

    After every epidemic, plane crash, hurricane we
    look back at what should have been done. There
    are always the deeply embedded bureaucratic
    shortcomings. We fool ourselves thinking that a
    risk averse, non-innovative leviathan will find
    its next point of failure and correct it in time.

    Decentralized decisions, close to data and action,
    tailored to specific problem sets, are faster and
    more probably correct. Feedback and correction
    are quicker. Well, gosh, this sounds a lot like
    free enterprise and the anathema of big government.


    1. Good points. That's the point of the Republican form of Government promised by the Constitution.

  4. Thank you for the exhaustive explanation!

  5. I'm still trying to figure out, why masks have an expiration date. There is simply no reason other that a planned obsolescence, which ensures that the manufacturer has a captive customer. The only possible degradation on any N-95 unit would be the elastic and it would take decades to become unusable.

  6. You can get mask form China any time . If they let them fly them in.

  7. Bureaucratic Imperative to Survive and Expand.

    It's just, so, Soviet.

  8. "expired" is a joke. It just means, maybe the straps lost a little elasticity, or some foam is a little crunchy. https://workersafety.3m.com/why-do-disposable-respirators-have-a-defined-shelf-life/

  9. Anonymous30/3/20

    Bah, humbug! I agree with Pinelander.
    Don't be a sheep, make your own darn mask!
    Bill K.

  10. It probably humorous to see a doctor or nurse wearing an industrial N95 mask at work especially the ones with replacement filters.

  11. Anonymous31/3/20

    "The FDA and CDC bureaucracy are not up to speed with the current crisis. There aren’t enough inspectors and the Wuhan Virus won’t wait on inspectors from the FDA or NIOSH to do their job."

    Nonsense, sir. It's just that these organizations' priorities are to slow-walk all approvals to (1) protect the apparent necessity of their vast bureaucracy, and (2) to inflict maximum harm on Trump.



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