“It’s insane that we can’t get these masks to the people who desperately need them.”

Photo by Jonathan J. Castellon on Unsplash

The family-run business DemeTech is a medical suture maker based in Miami that pivoted to manufacturing N95 masks in response to ongoing shortages of protective gear for frontline medical workers. Despite sinking tens of millions of dollars into new equipment, navigating a nine-month federal approval process, and ramping up production, DemeTech has not been able to secure enough buyers to sell its surplus of 30 million N95 masks.

As The New York Times reports:

In one of the more confounding disconnects between the laws of supply and demand, many of the nearly two dozen small American companies that recently jumped into the business of making N95s are facing the abyss — unable to crack the market, despite vows from both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden to “Buy American” and buoy domestic production of essential medical gear.

There are myriad reasons for the domestic sales and distribution conundrum, including ongoing competition with Chinese-made masks and general lack of awareness of newer American-made mask manufacturers. Hospitals are used to certain medical supply distributors and are wary of testing out new masks. Online ad giants, like Facebook and Google, were also banned from advertising N95 masks early on in the pandemic to prevent profiteering and to ensure enough masks for frontline medical workers. As a result, regulators may soon have to intervene, per the Times:

What’s required, public health experts and industry executives say, is an ambitious strategy that includes federal loans, subsidies and government purchasing directives to ensure the long-term viability of a domestic industry vital to the national interest.

In recent days, health experts have been more vocal about upgrading to medical-grade masks in an effort to slow the spread of new coronavirus variants.

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