Amid shortage, Pence says millions of masks available 'now' for hospitals to buy

Friday, March 20, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday said there has been a vast increase in the supply of medical face masks, despite complaints that health care providers currently lack enough necessary protective equipment to treat a surge of novel coronavirus patients.

"Honeywell alone is repurposing a factory that was destined for Mexico to produce another 120 million masks per year. 3M is increasing output to 420 million masks per year. We really -- we have put a priority, at the president's direction, on making sure those that are providing health care services to America have the protection to keep themselves and their families safe," Pence said.

When asked when the masks would be ready, Pence said, "3M is increasing their output to 420 million a year. At production in January, they made 35 million per month at that facility."

"And we are prioritizing the distribution of those, but the other thing -- and we'll emphasize this with governors this afternoon -- is we are working with governors to make sure that health care providers, the hospitals, and the clinics in their state are placing orders now that this tremendous increase in supply, particularly with industrial masks, is now available," he added.

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Scott Steiner, the CEO of Phoebe Putney Health System in Georgia, previously told ABC News that they ran through six months worth of protective equipment, or PPE, in seven days. And on Monday, the National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, said in a statement that currently, the quantity of personal protective equipment for health care workers is "drastically short of what is needed to stem the danger of becoming infected and exposing patients, family members, and other health care staff."

"Instead of rolling back standards, as the Centers for Disease Control and the American Hospital Association are proposing, we need to substantially increase the supply of the highest standard of protective equipment. That includes powered air purifying respirators, N95 respirators, and other proper protective clothing and gear," Castillo said.

Pence reiterated that the face masks are currently in the marketplace, "we're going to make it clear to governors, as we made it clear to health care providers on conference calls yesterday, that those resources are now there," he said.

Pence and President Donald Trump were also asked about guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for health care workers on how to deal with the limited supply on hand.

The CDC guidance "offers a series of strategies or options to optimize supplies of face masks in healthcare settings when there is limited supply."

It states that "as a last resort," in situations where there are no face masks available, health care workers "might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19."

"However, homemade masks are not considered PPE (personal protective equipment), since their capability to protect HCP is unknown," the CDC guidance said, adding that "caution should be exercised when considering this option."

"Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face," according to the guidance.

When specifically asked about the guidance issued by the CDC, Trump said he hadn't seen it.

"We've vastly increased the supply of medical masks, and we're going to continue to put a priority on making sure that we are calling on industry at every level, calling on major suppliers that the president met with this week, to make sure those personal protective equipment are there," Pence later said.

ABC News' Matt Gutman contributed to this report

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