Here’s a closer look at why American mask makers are going out of business.

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Here’s a closer look at why American mask makers are going out of business.

Back in 2005, when low-cost Chinese manufacturers were taking over the personal protective equipment industry, Mike Bowen became involved with a friend who had started a small surgical-mask company called Prestige Ameritech. The plan was to market its company’s masks to US hospitals and distributors as a way of providing flexibility – a means of ensuring domestic supply – if the global supply chain ever falters.

“Every company had left America,” he recalled recently. “The entire US mask supply was under foreign control.” He remembers warning customers, “If there’s a pandemic, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Which, of course, is what happened. Soon after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the supply chain of protective equipment broke down, leading to severe shortages, leading to the loss of lives. A handful of American entrepreneurs responded by starting to manufacture masks domestically.

In Miami, a family-owned surgical device company, DemeTech, spent several million dollars expanding its facilities, manufacturing machines, and hiring hundreds of employees; By the fall of 2020, it was able to manufacture five million masks a day, according to the company’s vice president, Luis Argüello Jr. “We took risks as a family,” he said.

It is difficult to know exactly how many similar efforts were produced during the pandemic; 36 companies are now members of the American Mask Manufacturers Association, which was formed to lobby Washington.

First, customers who could no longer get enough masks through their normal channels were banging their doors, and business boomed again during the Delta and Omicron waves. But once those waves broke, and Chinese companies that wanted to gain market share began exporting masks to the US at below cost, customers disappeared.

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Today, small American mask makers are in serious trouble, if they haven’t already gone out of business. DemeTech has furloughed almost all of the staff it hired to make masks, and it has closed most of its mask manufacturing facility.

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