A Washington Post story reveals that the US government turned down the chance to manufacture N95 masks in the United States.
According to the Post, Michael Bowen, the owner of Prestige Ameritech, offered the government a chance to ramp up N95 mask production on January 22. The federal government’s mask stockpile was low at the time.
Bowen wrote an email to HHS officials on January 22 saying his company could increase N95 mask production to 1.7 million a week. He received a reply from Laura Wolf, the director of HHS’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection the same day. She said the government couldn’t answer his questions at the time.
On January 22, the first case of coronavirus case surfaced in the United States.
Bowen didn’t stop after Wolf’s reply. He wrote another email.
N95 Masks – An Opportunity Lost?
Bowen wrote another email to HHS officials. He explained he had enough orders and wasn’t contacting them out of business interests. In the email, he stated his company was the only domestic mask manufacturer in America. Furthermore, he added his company would preserve the N95 mask production infrastructure if the need for it arose in the future.
The second mail didn’t convince the HHS either. Ultimately, the government didn’t take up Bowen on his offer.
Bowen’s communications with the HHS was part of a whistleblower report from Rick Bright. Bright is the former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He left his role in April.
Bowen, in a direct exchange with Bright on January 26, warned that the supply of N95 masks was at imminent risk.
The Government’s Response
White House Economic Advisor Peter Navarro responded to the story saying that Bowen’s company wasn’t the easiest one to deal with. Furthermore, he said other companies like Honeywell and Parkdale did a better job at efficiently increasing production of N95 masks.
An anonymous HHS official told the Washington Post that Bowen’s premonitions were right. However, the HHS didn’t have the necessary money to fund Bowen’s offer and ramp up production of N95 masks.