Delaware company imports millions of needed medical masks
CHRISTIANA – For the thousands of health care workers in Delaware, one of the most important things protecting their health amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic is a mask.
Whether a simple, disposable surgical mask or the costlier, reusable and fitted N95 respirator, the masks are able to keep the virus at bay, allowing them to treat the dozens of new suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases that walk into medical centers each day. These masks along with other personal protective equipment (PPE) are in short supply, however, as health care systems around the country rush to stock up for immediate needs and long-term planning.
There is a small bright spot in Delaware, however, as Indutex USA, a manufacturer and seller of hazmat suits that are sold to first responders, has sourced millions of the masks in China. On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) visited the company’s leased warehouse space at D&S Warehouse off Harmony Road to highlight its inventory, which he hopes to connect with Delaware’s health care systems.
George Gianforcaro, president of the U.S. operations for the Italian company, called upon Coons, his longtime friend, just a few days ago after distributing 20 million masks to health care systems across the country, but not in Delaware.
Coons said he connected Gianforcaro with A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, which is overseeing the procurement of needed medical supplies in the state.
‘Constant flow’ of supplies
Indutex had about 500,000 masks on hand Tuesday morning and an afternoon shipment delivered 900,000 more, Gianforcaro said. On Wednesday, he expected a delivery of 1.2 million masks and another 1 million or 2 million by the end of the week. Next week, he was arranging a shipment of 3 million masks along with 500,000 N95 respirators.
“It’s a constant flow,” Gianforcaro said. “As they are producing them, we’re getting them here.”
To date, Indutex has not distributed any masks in Delaware, but is filling orders to New Jersey, New York, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Utah. Coons said that he wanted to change that by personally getting the product in front of ChristianaCare officials Tuesday so they could review it for quality assurance.
“I’m literally taking samples over to the hospital to say, ‘Here’s your samples, give them a [purchase order] or they’re all going somewhere else,” Coons said, noting Schall was coordinating similar efforts for the state’s other health care systems.
Many hospitals had not filed purchase orders for PPE because they are now having to buy it at unforeseen volumes. Short on budgeted funds, many were awaiting more information regarding Congress’s trillions in aid approved last week, Coons explained. That stimulus bill contains $130 billion in backstop funding for health care organizations to acquire such resources.
After 25 years in the business, Gianforcaro said that he has trusted brokers on the ground in China who are sourcing out manufacturers of the needed supplies. With health care officials around the country reporting shortages of PPE, especially in hotspot areas like New York City and Seattle, Gianforcaro said that his long relationships overseas have helped him find product that others haven’t. Those broker relationships have also allowed him to confidently buy the Chinese goods sight unseen.
“If you’re going to wire someone a million dollars you want to make sure that you trust them to deliver,” he noted.
Hopes for virus tests too
Indutex is not only concerned about getting PPE into the hands of health care workers but also faster testing for the virus. Gianforcaro said that Indutex was also seeking U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval of blood-based tests for the virus that can give results in just 15 minutes. The company already has suppliers lined up for the tests that apparently have approval from the European regulatory agency.
Coons said the tests, if successfully approved, would be a huge aid to the public, given that private laboratory companies like Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp have a backlog of nasal swab-based tests to run, creating a delay in results of seven to 10 days.
“Hopefully they will be approving this kind of a test that is much more like an at-home pregnancy test and that is something that can be administered outside of a clinical setting, but I don’t know whether they’re going to approve it,” he said, noting there are many companies worldwide racing for approval of a test.
Changing world, slow reaction to blame
Coons emphasized that the supply shortage is a natural consequence of the globalization of trade and the move to just-in-time inventory, where companies don’t sit on large inventories of product because of the easy availability of commodities through distribution.
“That’s great right up until people start closing their borders and there is an unexpected massive spike in something that was previously just treated as a disposable commodity,” he said.
Coons also criticized the federal response to the crisis as too slow and added that agencies should be doing more to coordinate the procurement of resources. He specifically pointed out the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Logistics Agency, which acquires weapons, fuel, parts, and other materials for the military, as well as coordinating civilian resources in response to domestic natural disasters and foreign humanitarian aid.
“I’m just going say that three months ago they should have been put in charge of integrating the supply chains, moving manufacturing in the United States to being fully engaged and getting this managed,” Coons said, noting DLA has now gotten involved in the effort.
When asked his opinion about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remarks Monday that a fourth stimulus package may be necessary in response to the virus, Coons said that it was “inevitable.”
“Sure, the $2 trillion bill was hard enough – it is the single largest appropriation bill in American history – but I do think we should take a week or two to see what the trajectory is of the disease, and how distribution of these resources is happening,” he said, noting he had a call with U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza on Tuesday to discuss the distribution of $377 billion to small businesses and nonprofits. “But I agree with the Speaker and many other leaders in Congress who said we will almost certainly have to do a fourth, or maybe even fifth, bill – first for response and second for recovery.”
By Jacob Owens