Mask manufacturer gets go-ahead to make more masks - for Texas

Here’s a good news update to a post published on Monday – a Texas manufacturer of surgical masks will be adding an extra shift which will produce 2 million face masks a week to be used in Texas.

The deal struck between Prestige Ameritech and Governor Abbott includes using about 50 members of the Texas National Guard to man the extra shift. This is a win-win for the manufacturer because the shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) will be addressed in Texas and it will come from a Texas manufacturer. Prestige Ameritech was founded by former Tecnol and Kimberly-Clark employees in 2005 and is America’s number one surgical mask manufacturer. The company wanted to help out with the national shortage of PPE but had to balance that desire with practical considerations that affect the manufacturer after the high demand ebbs.

“At a time in need, especially for the face masks that are in such high demand, we needed an automatic supply that we would be able to rely upon, both immediately, but in an ongoing way,” Abbott said. “And they are capable of providing exactly that.”

The company’s CEO signals a bit of Texas pride in helping find a solution to a real need now as Texas fights the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have raw material sources that are here, they are ready to run, they are fully capable. The state of Texas came and said ‘hey, we can put people there, we can help you do that.’ And that’s exactly what is going on,” Reese said. “We are going to generate millions more products that are going to be available for the state of Texas.”

The State of Texas will purchase a portion of the supply and the rest will be sold to hospitals in the state. The surgical masks, along with N95 respirators and face shields manufactured by Prestige Ameritech will be shipped across the state, taking care that first responders get them, not just hospitals. “We are trying to make sure everybody working on the response to this has what they need to do their jobs,” said Seth Christensen, a spokesman for the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Tom Banning, CEO of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, is pleased with the agreement but voiced concern that even with the additional supply coming available, it may not be enough. Last year Texas used1.5 billion masks. Banning noted that COVID-19 spreads quickly and the need this year may be in the range of 3.2 billion masks as this coronavirus is fought. In other words, there is no time to relax and think that the PPE supply chain solution is complete. There will likely be a need to find more equipment as the pandemic spreads throughout Texas. Banning’s concern may or may not play out, though. Wednesday Governor Abbott cautiously said that signs point to the spread of the coronavirus slowing in Texas.

COVID-19 testing will continue to expand. Walgreen’s is offering drive-through testing that will be able to test 3,000 people a day. Most importantly, social distancing efforts are working. Compared to two weeks ago, it now takes twice as long for the number of positive coronavirus cases in Texas to double. Texas isn’t out of the woods yet, though, and John Hellerstedt, the Commissioner of the Department of State Health Services warns it is too early yet to know when Texas may experience a peak in the spread of the coronavirus. He rightly warns that Texans must take a cautious approach, now is not the time to let up on efforts everyone is making to flatten the curve.

“We’re headed in the right direction. … But we really want to gather more data so that we are confident in the trends,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants us to act rashly or prematurely and have a resurgence of new cases.”

Whether the curve is already flattening in Texas or not, this is good news. The needs of those on the front line of the battle will be met as they receive additional PPE supplies and that’s a good thing. This story is a hopeful one amidst lots of sad stories. I’m grateful that my state of Texas is so good at partnerships between private businesses and the state government in times like this.