I laughed at this tweet by Tom Elliott: “There’s a non zero percent chance the mafia is involved here.”

It feels right. We’re a third-world country now in many respects. Our nurses wear trash bags because our leaders were too shortsighted and slovenly to stockpile PPE before a pandemic broke out. We’re governed by a nationalist strongman whose battle plan against the virus seems to be to give everyone some hydroxychloroquine and tell them to get back to work. Of course a society at that late stage of decline might need to turn to the mafia as a key distributor of supplies.

I don’t understand the claim here that SEIU “discovered” a distributor who was sitting on 39 million farking masks. The N95 is the gold standard, a respirator that fits tightly around the nose and mouth and filters out at least 95 percent of tiny particles. Doctors and nurses have been screaming for more of them for weeks. Trump and Mike Pence have called for donations to keep hospital workers stockpiled while the feds look to manufacture more. The masks are supposed to be single-use but they’re so scarce that medical personnel have taken to spraying them down with disinfectant and reusing them day after day while hoping for the best:

Anyone who’s sitting on 39 million masks surely understands what they do and why they’re desperately needed now. How were they only “discovered” this week?

The union launched an exhaustive search for masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) five days ago in response to pleas from frontline healthcare workers that they need more protection and feel unsafe on the job as they treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients. SEIU-UHW has 97,000 members who work in hospitals across California.

Within 48 hours of painstakingly calling leads and potential suppliers, the union discovered a distributor who had the 39 million masks, and has since found another supplier who says his company can produce 20 million more masks a week. The union also has found a supplier who can deliver millions of face shields.

Why did SEIU manage to find them but the federal government didn’t?

BuzzFeed asked an SEIU spokesman why the distributor had such a gigantic stockpile of masks sitting around and he said he had no idea. Congrats to the union on a big — and weird — find, which basically doubles the number of masks in the national stockpile in one fell swoop. The new inventory is still only enough to supply medical purchasers in New York and California, and the number represents just one percent of the 3.5 billion masks that are expected to be needed before the crisis ends, but it’s a start. Oh, and there’s another detail: “The masks are $5 each, and the union has no financial interest in the transactions.”

Five bucks? Don’t these masks normally go for 60 to 80 cents a pop? The distributor’s entitled to a little mark-up at a moment when demand is stratospheric, I guess, but a 700 percent return is an impressive case of plague profiteering.

As for our national shortage, virtually every problem we’re having with COVID-19 is ultimately a “China problem” and this is no exception:

As the coronavirus began to spread in China early this year, a global shortage of protective equipment began to look inevitable. But by then it was too late for the American government to do much about the problem. Two decades ago, most hospital protective gear was made domestically. But like much of the rest of the apparel and consumer products business, face mask manufacturing has since shifted nearly entirely overseas. “China is a producer of 80 percent of masks worldwide,” Laverdure said.

China needs the masks as much as anyone else, and so it’s holding on to them. The mafia’s now our only hope.

Doctors and nurses in New York should soon have fresh masks to help protect them thanks to SEIU. And if not, they can always follow the advice of our CDC, which, after catastrophically botching America’s chance to start testing for this virus early, recently recommended to medical personnel that they try wearing bandanas as a last-ditch means of protection from a deadly virus if they can’t find anything better. Decent advice from a third-world country’s health agency.