Mike Bowen’s warehouse outside Fort Worth, Texas, was piled high with cases of medical-grade N95 face masks. His company, Prestige Ameritech, can churn out 1 million masks every four days, but he doesn’t have orders for nearly that many. So he recently got approval from the government to export them.
“I’m drowning in these respirators,” Bowen said.
On the same day 1,000 miles north, Mary Turner, a COVID-19 intensive care nurse at a hospital outside Minneapolis, strapped on the one disposable N-95 respirator allotted for her entire shift.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Turner would have thrown out her mask and grabbed a new one after each patient to prevent the spread of disease. But on this day, she’ll wear that mask from one infected person to the next because N95s — they filter out 95% of infectious particles — have supposedly been in short supply since last March.