(TNS) - In late January, as the coronavirus continued spreading across the globe, the Foothill Community Health Center in San Jose, Calif., had a problem.
The center, a nonprofit network of medical and dental clinics, was running low on N95 masks — the respirator mask that officials recommend health care workers wear when coming in contact with patients who may have coronavirus.
“There’s a huge shortage,” said Umer Murtaza, the safety manager and facilities coordinator for Foothill’s clinics. Staff normally wear surgical masks during flu season, but with the coronavirus starting to spread beyond China, Foothill wanted to upgrade to N95s. It had some, but not enough.
After some searching — Foothill’s normal suppliers, facing a spike in demand, told Murtaza that N95s were on back order and couldn’t be shipped for weeks — Murtaza was able to get supplies from Direct Relief, a Santa Barbara nonprofit that is distributing N95s worldwide. But the problems run deep: Mask companies are reporting global shortages, partly due to the fact that most of the world’s face masks are made in China and Taiwan, according to the New York Times. The Chinese government has directed Chinese mask manufacturers to temporarily halt the export of masks in order to preserve them for Chinese residents.
The illness has infected more than 43,000, mostly in China, and officials announced Monday that deaths had exceeded 1,000.
“There is a worldwide shortage today of masks ... primarily related to the fact that the demand has spiked for these products,” Stanley Bergman, CEO of Henry Schein, one of the world’s largest distributors of masks to medical and dental offices, told CNBC last week.