US announces multi-million dollar contract to ramp up mask production
The Pentagon – the Department of Defence headquarters – announced the news yesterday. The contract, which is with manufacturer 3M, is understood to be worth $126 million.
However, it won’t come into force until October of this year, according to Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Mike Andrews.
The increased production capacity will ensure that the supply chain of the N95 masks is sustainable, and will help resupply the US national stockpile, the DoD said.
A Pentagon statement reads: “This increased production/industrial capacity will continue to ensure a sustainable supply chain of N95 masks and resupply the Strategic National Stockpile in response to the increased national demand caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In order to carry out the planned production boost, 3M will have to expand its manufacturing facility in Aberdeen in South Dakota.
The DoD also said that “3M has already placed orders for raw material and two new N95 manufacturing lines.”
The increased production will mean that the firm will make at least 312 million N95 masks annually “within the next twelve months”.
But it isn’t the first time this year that 3M has been awarded a contract to produce millions of N95 masks.
The recent contract comes after the US DoD announced on April 11 that it would spend $133 million in contracts for N95 masks.
3M is understood to have received the largest share of that amount at the time at $76 million, according to Bloomberg.
That announcement, made under the Defense Production Act – also outlined that three companies, 3M, Honeywell International, and Halyard would between them produce a total of 39 million masks over three months.
Based on that, the most recent contract with 3M is presumably separate.
N95 masks are an item of personal protective equipment (PPE) that are used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and liquid.
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Although the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that members of the public should wear simple cloth face coverings in public, they advise against the use of N95 masks in the general public.
This is to ensure that there are enough of the N95 masks for medical staff and care workers.
The recent contract with 3M will see the firm producing 26 million masks per month, but although this sounds like a lot, the manufacturer recommends that they are designed for one-time use.
The CDC states: “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”
But regarding cloth face masks, the CDC states that it “recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
The CDC issued the guidance in light of evidence suggesting that people can spread the virus before they have symptoms.
But it stresses that masks should not be used as a substitute for other social distancing measures, emphasising that 6-feet social distancing “remains important” for slowing the spread of Covid-19.
Cloth face masks could be fashioned from household items or common materials at low cost, the CDC suggests.
Meanwhile in the UK, cabinet minister Michael Gove said that 149 million masks had been sent out in England by May 2, the BBC reports.
Though it is unclear how many of these are N95 or equivalent, as opposed to loose-fitting surgical masks.
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