Our experience in writing pandemic plans very commonly observed one particular behavior – “when it (the pandemic) gets close then we will (fill in the blank)…that could be filled in with “buy masks” or “secure antivirals”.

What happens when it is next door?

Because everyone was focused on Asia and Egypt, never did it dawn on anyone that our closest neighbor would be the initial source and the first cases would be here before we had any time to plan or buy.

Time Magazines article released today (May 19, 2009), entitled A New Pandemic Fear: A Shortage of Surgical Masks clearly illustrates the problem.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says the nation would need more than 30 billion masks — 27 billion of the simple surgical kind, which can be worn safely for only about two hours before needing replacement, and 5 billion of the sturdier respirator variety, which also requires regular replacement — to protect all Americans adequately in the event of a serious epidemic. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Strategic National Stockpile currently contains only 119 million masks — 39 million surgical and 80 million respirator. That’s less than 1% of the goal health officials set in 2007 following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which highlighted the country’s shortages of vital medical gear.

The article goes on to compare us to other nations…we don’t look so good.

The U.S. mask gap stands in stark contrast to what other nations have on hand: the U.S. has one mask for every three Americans (masks are not supposed to be shared), while Australia has 2.5 masks per resident and Great Britain boasts six.

And then of course there is the issue of where they are made…this is one of those “AHA” moments…

Most maskmaking operations have moved outside the U.S., and 90% of masks sold in the U.S. now come from Mexico or China. But if the U.S. suddenly put in orders for millions of masks, Mexico and China would be unlikely to export their supplies before making sure their own populations were fully protected.


What should you be doing now?

Between the shortage and the location of where masks are made, we are likely to have some serious issues with sufficient supply if the pandemic escalates this fall.

Is there anything else in your pandemic plan that you wish you would have done or purchased?  I suggest you look carefully at your plan for the areas of weakness and immediately make decisions – unfortunately, some of those might have been made