Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States federal government gave passing thought to its stockpile of respiratory masks.
Respiratory masks, long downplayed by health and government officials as an effective precautionary measure, are now a critically important tool in stopping the metastasization of COVID-19. Yet from hospitals to pharmacy shelves, supplies are dwindling.
“If it were to be a severe event, we would need 3.5 billion N95 respirator masks,” to get through the coronavirus crisis, Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, testified before the Senate Health Committee in late-March. At that time, the U.S. had approximately 42 million masks on hand, a fraction of the needed supply, and the situation has hardly improved since. Depending on how you count, the United States is still short between 70 to 100 million face masks per month.
Spurred by federal incentives, domestic manufacturers like Kimberly-Clark and Honeywell have stepped up their disaster preparedness response, with 3M alone pledging to nearly double output to 2 billion masks per year. But last Tuesday, after President Donald Trump pledged to buy 600 million masks from five domestic producers, at least one said it wouldn’t be able to fill its side of the order until September. Even well-funded conglomerations lack the capacity to ramp up short-run “burst capacity” production on any meaningful scale.
That’s where the Open PPE Project comes in. A group of about 15 technologists and engineers based in the Midwest is forging a way to spin up mask-making facilities across the country. The idea is to give manufacturing capability to individual hospitals, towns and states, thereby alleviating the constraints of centralized production.
Beginning with their own factory churning out N95-like…