At today's Coronavirus Task Force press conference, Vice President Pence asked construction companies to donate to their local hospitals their stocks of N95 respirator masks and stop ordering more for the time being. This call comes in the middle of a major shortage of these kinds of masks, which get their name from being able to block at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles.
Because of their ability to filter out these very small particles, these N95 respirators are often used by construction workers on sites where there is a lot of concrete dust, for example. Currently, these masks are in short supply -- and prices are often extremely high. While the WHO doesn't recommend the use of masks for most people, a lot of people have bought them anyway, which contributed to this shortage. At Home Depot, for example, they are currently completely sold out.
"We urge construction companies to donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital and forgo additional orders of these industrial masks because of what the president asked to be included in legislation that is moving through Congress today, these industrial masks that they use on construction sites are perfectly acceptable for healthcare workers to be protected from a respiratory disease," Pence said. "What we ask construction companies -- which our president knows very well from his background -- we are asking them to donate their N95 masks to their local hospitals and also forgo making additional orders."
In today's briefing, Pence and President Trump also noted that the government is looking at making sure that the military will be able to establish field hospitals or expand existing facilities, if necessary.
The fact that the U.S. government now has to ask these companies to donate N95 masks clearly shows how unprepared it was for this outbreak.