In the midst of yet another surge in Covid cases and a return of the state’s mask mandate, we are seeing the demand for masks begin to skyrocket once again. Opting for convenience over quality, more and more local, state, and federal governments are favoring masks made in China as opposed to those locally manufactured. This comes at the expense of safety since many of the masks gotten from China pose a threat due to inconsistency and lack of durable quality. This problem is not new and actually began at the onset of the pandemic two years ago as the nation struggled with shortages of many products including masks and other PPE.
In response to this problem, Governor Cuomo asked companies with New York-based operations to retool production lines in order to manufacture approved COVID-19 critical supplies, such as ventilators, test kits and PPE. Todd Shatkin of Shatkin Dental and Shatkin Masks and Connor Knapp of Sterling Heart Care and NYPPE along with 30 other New York companies heeded the call and began production of PPE and pandemic supplies immediately.
“We felt that we had the capabilities as a group to do it. We applied for the grant, and we did get an award and that was the exciting part. It wasn’t easy. There were many struggles in getting production up and running- it’s tough to start any business at any time, but, in the middle of a pandemic and for this type of stuff, it’s a very difficult process,” says Knapp owner of NYPPE
“We have thousands of dentists who work with us. And dentists in particular were having a lot of trouble getting N95 masks and also other PPE. I decided that I wanted to start manufacturing N95 masks because the ones that we were getting from China were very inconsistent. The quality was inconsistent, it was hard to get them shipped over and there just wasn’t enough to go around. So, around May or June of 2020 we started manufacturing N95 masks.” States Shatkin, owner of Shatkin Masks.
Despite the initial funding and support, most of these businesses struggled as time progressed to compete with the influx of products from China which harm not only the domestic supply chain, but ultimately our safety.
“There’s been numerous independent studies of the N95’s that come into the US from foreign countries. Those studies consistently showed that 60 to 70% of those products tested are not even close to the spec that would be required from a US manufacturer. So, we feel that not only are they doing a disservice economically, but they’re doing a disservice to the overall strategy to control COVID, to keep businesses open and keep people healthy,” states Knapp.
As many of these companies are sitting on the brink of extinction, they are finding ways to make local governments aware that they are eager to sell their quality products and continue to keep our communities safe. Not only is safety a growing priority, so also is the urgency to recycle money right here in the local economy.
“The main thing is absolutely that New York state should be buying from New York state suppliers. The governor said that all along and the president has said that we want people to be buying US manufactured PPE and it just boggles my mind that they haven’t been calling and ordering and I’ve been trying to get a hold of everybody to tell them,” says Shatkin.
While efforts are being made to reach state governments, there are also attempts being made right here in Erie County. In an open letter, Buffalo Council Member Mitch Nowakowski encourages Dr. Cash, Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools, to strongly consider purchasing PPE from American-made manufacturers right here in Erie County. BPS recently announced a request for bids for adult and children sized disposable face masks to be used at schools throughout the district in 2022. As pandemic constraints continue to jeopardize local businesses, the schools have an opportunity to do the right thing by supporting local manufacturing while simultaneously protecting the teachers and students working tirelessly. Part of the letter reads,
Supporting locally owned and operated manufacturers right here in Erie County is an economic benefit to our region. The funds kept in our County are then recirculated, having a multiplier effect. They will pay more salaries to local workers, build the local tax base, and reduce the
environmental impact transportation needs, not to mention the cost of shipping.
In response, we sound another call to both Albany and local leaders to purchase PPE from US manufacturers and even those located right here in Erie County who are struggling without support. We ask that you consider safety and the detriment it causes our community, state, and nation at large when our pleas are ignored.
“There is a dire need for some government support to keep us going and allow it to build and become sustainable. Sustainability is the key word. Whatever anyone’s opinion is on the current pandemic, it’s clear that we found ourselves in a hole on day one because of a broken domestic supply chain. Collaboration between the government and US manufacturers now not only helps right the ship in terms of COVID-19, but will also help ensure this never happens again with future pandemics ” says Knapp.
“We’ve informed the state that we’ve received NIOSH approval for our N95 masks. We even sent an email to Governor Hochul. They should be buying our masks! Why would they be giving away masks manufactured in China when we have the best quality masks right here in Buffalo,” stated Shatkin.