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The pitch came in like any other pitch I get: “Our client has a product that I think you’d be interested in.” But this wasn’t an email about a new TV or bottle of tequila or deodorant spray for your balls (yes, that’s a thing). Instead, it was a company offering N95 respirator masks for sale to the general public — the same N95 masks hospitals have reported a shortage of, as doctors and frontline workers continue to treat patients affected by the COVID-19 outbreak across the country.
Though the FDA has approved the use of these masks as personal protective equipment (PPE), the agency has, until now, recommended that N95 masks be reserved for healthcare professionals — in accordance with the latest CDC guidelines. The CDC suggests cloth face coverings for everyone else.
So how is an independent preventative care company able to make N95 masks available to the public? The answer it seems, has to do with supply and demand.
N95 Mask Co. says its Respokare NIOSH N95 Respirator Masks use “advanced antiviral technology” to block up to 95% of small particles (measured at .3 micron or less). What’s more, the company says the masks “inactivate up to 99.9% of particles within minutes,” neutralizing germs and viruses on the surface to prevent potentially harmful exposure into your airstream and lungs. By not only trapping viruses, but destroying them too, the company says these are some of the most effective protective masks you can buy online.
While regular face masks create a physical barrier against fluids, and external dust and debris, they are not designed to filter particles or prevent the spread of pathogens, such as viruses. As such, they are not approved for medical use and aren’t designated as PPE.
The FDA says respirators provide a higher level of protection against viruses and bacteria, by filtering out airborne particles, while sitting more tightly against the face. Those are the types of masks being sold by N95 Mask Co.
For CMO Mia Sultan, the goal of the company has always been to help keep hospitals stocked with masks, while also providing the general public with masks for everyday use. The two supply chains, she says, aren’t mutually exclusive.
“N95 Mask Co. has and continues to prioritize frontline workers and institutions,” she tells Rolling Stone in an email. “By making our products available to consumers, we are able to maintain a consistent level of production at the factory level, evening out the ebbs and flows inherent to the institutional ordering process. In some rare instances, consumer orders may be delayed for short periods if inventory needs to be reallocated to our institutional customers quickly.”
While the technicalities of supply chain management can be complicated, the short answer is that the more production a company can implement at its factories, the more prepared it will be once hospitals and other government institutions come calling. As a rep for N95 Mask Co. explains: “[The company] needs to make a solid commitment to the factory and to UPS as to exactly how many units will be produced and shipped every day.”
In other words, even if an order doesn’t arrive from a hospital, product still needs to leave the factory and get on the plane with UPS. If not, the company loses scheduled time at the factory, and space on the plane the following day. “This is where the consumer orders come in to fill those gaps and keep the supply chain rolling,” the rep explains.
The N95 Mask Co. face mask is NIOSH-certified, CDC-approved, and appears on the FDA list of approved manufacturers. Each mask has four layers of fabric, including a water-resistant inner layer, and a middle layer with the company’s patented “anti-viral technology.”
The company currently has a number of options for purchase, starting at a four-pack of masks for $49.99, with a 20-pack going for $179.99. They also sell a bulk pack of 200 masks for $1,499 (or less than $7.50 per mask). Keep in mind, officials recommend these masks for one-time use only.
If you’re looking for other options, the site Honest PPE Supply has N95 masks for sale as well (which all ship from the U.S.).
Honest PPE founder Shaz Amin, says his goal to offer NIOSH N95 masks for the “lowest prices,” believing that “saving lives” outweighs a large profit margin. These Makrite N95 masks are made with five layers of material, with a foldable cup shape and thick, adjustable strap. Honest PPE has FDA-approved N95 respirator masks on sale as well, starting at just $4.95 per mask.
Amin says Honest PPE has donated more than 100,000 pieces of PPE equipment to recipients in need across the country.
N95 Mask Co. meantime, says it has donated more than 5000 masks to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, as well as to the JCC and other organizations in the New York and Louisville, Kentucky area. Moving forward, they’ll be offering masks “at a discounted price” to medical facilities, frontline workers, first responders and military.
“Many hospitals are no longer accepting donations as a means of quality control and liability protection,” the rep explains, but “the direct-to-consumer sales actually allow our client to more consistently and rapidly fill the needs of front line workers and institutions [when needed].”