The facility, which opened earlier this month, is strategically placed in St. Louis, a location that the company hopes will help them distribute the PPE — which includes masks, sanitizers, cleaning products, hearing protection, hand protection, and body coverings — across the country quickly.
The coronavirus, which is arguably growing faster than it ever has in the United States, has left hospitals and other healthcare facilities ravaged and without long-term supplies of PPE.
Further, a recent study found that one in five long-term care facilities lacks the PPE needed to handle an outbreak.
“If a home doesn't have at least a week's worth, that's a problem. It's regarded as a critical shortage and the reason why is because if you have an outbreak, you can start chewing through your existing supplies like that,” said Teresa Murray of the US Public Interest Research Group.
City governments across the country have stockpiled protective equipment in an attempt to protect against widespread infection rates. The city of El Paso, Texas, for instance, has stored as many as 66 ventilators, nearly 5 million masks, and 400,000 thousand gloves. This number is perhaps even more significant when one considers that the city’s store of masks has far surpassed the total number of masks distributed since the pandemic’s inception.
The Missouri manufacturing facility is intended to develop the store of PPE beginning in Missouri and spanning the entire country.
Companies Changing Manufacturing Processes to Develop PPE
Beginning in March, several giants of American manufacturing also shifted their priorities to the production of PPE.
General Motors (GM), the owner of automotive brands as large as Chevrolet, Cadillac, and GMC, was part of a $490 million contract with the federal government to deliver 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. It is also producing N95 masks — so named because of its ability to filter as many as 95% of microscopic airborne particles — in its Warren, Michigan manufacturing facility.
Similarly, Fitbit, which manufactures health and fitness tracking technologies, began producing emergency ventilators after receiving approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration in July. Other companies manufacturing ventilators include Honda, which plans to produce 10,000 ventilators per month, Ford Motor Company, which had a contract to produce roughly 50,000 ventilators, and Foxconn, a parts manufacturer for Apple who has not disclosed ventilator production numbers.
“The Ford and GE Healthcare teams, working creatively and tirelessly, have found a way to produce this vitally needed ventilator quickly and in meaningful numbers,” said Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO.
Second Wave of Coronavirus and PPE Manufacturers
While the companies mentioned have largely slowed or stopped production of PPE since the summer, the United States is undergoing a surge in coronavirus cases that may necessitate their renewed production.
Last week, the United States reported 500,000 new coronavirus cases — a 46% jump — bringing 26 states to at or close to record case numbers. The jump in cases, some experts believe, is caused by ‘pandemic fatigue,’ a phenomenon in which Americans are becoming increasingly willing to resume normal social interactions despite CDC and health agency guidelines.
The increasing cases are also forcing state and government legislators to consider renewed social gathering restrictions.
Among the localities increasing such restrictions are Newark, New Jersey, which implemented a “nightly business curfew,” a two-week-long stay at home order in El Paso, and a halt on indoor dining in Chicago, Illinois, ordered by Governor J.B. Pritzker.
Pritzker said the potential of a second wave was sufficient to justify the lockdown.
“We can’t ignore what is happening around us,” he said in a statement. “Because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring.”
The politics of the pandemic also extend to the presidential campaign trail, where President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are pitching drastically disparate visions of pandemic safety.
These coronavirus considerations will undoubtedly last for months to come, and the necessity for PPE is unlikely to relent. Because of this, factories like Optimas will become integral to the US coronavirus response and, hopefully, decrease the spread of the virus that has claimed over 220,000 American lives.