Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Coronavirus Creates Mass Panic & is Leading to Surgical Mask Shortage


The Coronavirus has made lots of headlines since about mid-January.  It seems that every 2-3 years there is some type of a flu epidemic that causes panic across the globe (remember the H1-N1 scare?).

The outbreak of this cold & flu season is the Coronavirus which seems to have started in the Wuhan province of China.

As I type this, the virus has caused 494 confirmed deaths.  When you factor in the fact that the current world population is around 7.7 billion (7,700,000,000), the number of deaths is actually tiny in comparison.  However, if affects you or someone you love, statistics mean little.

In today’s environment of the constant input of the 24 news cycle, people are hearing a lot about the virus and its potential complications.  Because of that, fears are high of a global pandemic even though the possibility of that is actually pretty minimal.  With that being said, the Chinese government is actually requiring people in quarantined areas to wear surgical masks whenever they are in public.  This fact combined with the global scare and photos on every news story of people wearing masks has created a run on the mask supply.

There is also the fact that the majority of surgical masks are manufactured in overseas factories.  The US Department of Health and Human Services has compiled data showing the 95 percent of surgical masks and 70 percent of respirators are made overseas.  This means that as panic spreads, supplies get exhausted as frightened individuals try to purchase masks.  The interesting part of this, according to Business Insider is that "experts have said that face masks aren't necessary or even that effective — hygiene practices like handwashing and keeping a distance from people known to be infected will do — demand for the masks has reportedly exceeded supply in cities across the world."

The real problem could lie in the fact that healthcare workers who are the ones diagnosing and treating the patients with the disease may be at risk of running out of masks that they NEED to do their work and not become infected.

Companies selling masks to US healthcare providers have been advising for about a week that supplies are starting to show the strain and that they may not be able to keep up with demand.

This is an interesting Catch 22.  Healthcare workers may not have adequate supplies to treat infected patients which may lead to further infections and more deaths.

Update:  As an example, here is an email I received today from Henry Schein Dental:

Dear Valued Customer,
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, we are experiencing higher than normal demand globally for infection control products such as masks, goggles, and face shields, among other items. We are working with our manufacturing and supply chain partners, as well as global health organizations including the Pandemic Supply Chain Network, the World Health Organization, the Chinese Ministry of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, to address shortages as they occur. Given this situation and acute market needs, we anticipate disruptions to orders for certain infection products in various markets. Please contact your local Henry Schein consultant for specific inventory inquiries. 
Henry Schein Dental Customer Service

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