Mask shortages could loom again as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread throughout the United States and more and more people begin to take notice.and in high transmission settings again.
Some cities, states and businesses have also implemented mask mandates, helping to increase sales of sheet and surgical masks as well as medical-grade respirators, once reserved for hospital and frontline workers.
Requesthas skyrocketed in recent weeks alongside a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, according to manufacturers and market experts.
Some retailers first noticed the increase in late July, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even encouraged those vaccinated toagain, because breakthrough infections have been reported in those vaccinated.
“It’s getting crazy now. We are accelerating at a feverish pace to meet demand. I think people finally understand that a better quality mask is needed to help protect people,” Brian Wolin, CEO of Protective Health Gear , a New Jersey-based N95 mask maker, told CBS MoneyWatch.
PHG is processing “non-stop” orders in volumes that are about 200% higher today than a few weeks ago, he said.
Sales had declined so much once Americans started getting vaccinated that Wolin, also a chiropractor, was unsure of staying with the company.
“We were concerned that we might not keep this business going when things calmed down. I’m glad we were here to help make a quality American product so that no one had to worry about the quality,” he said. -he declares.
Insist “through the roof”
Wolin had already cut production and, in the weeks leading up to the CDC’s announcement, was only operating with a reduced team.
“At our peak, we employed well over 150 people and worked 24/7, and then demand really dropped when people started vaccinating and dropping mask mandates in May. the roof, he said.
A year ago, at the height of the operation, hospitals and medical facilities were making most of the purchases. Today, sales come from all corners: distributors, private medical practices, doctors, nurses and ordinary people, according to Wolin.
“At its peak, the general public was happy to let first responders and frontline workers use the N95s. Now these guys have caught up and I’m seeing an increase in demand from ordinary people.” , he said of his clients.
Wolin is not alone in having to ramp up again after months of declining mask sales.
Mask sales for the week starting July 28 were up 51% from the previous week, according to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, which tracks more than 1,000 billion visits to online shopping sites. American retailers to help them pull information on consumer spending. Sales were up another 40% for the seven-day period starting August 4.
Mask sales were down week-over-week from May through the last week of July, according to the same data.
This was the case with Michael Sinensky, CEO of WeShield, a supplier of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and gowns.
“Things slowed down in the second quarter of this year, but recently, with the explosion of the Delta variant, demand has increased,” Sinensky said. “We are back at a difficult stage where it is difficult to meet the demand and that is because normal and ordinary citizens now want PPE.”
It’s the typical American consumer supplement that is straining its current supply the most, according to Sinensky.
“Now that the cases are on the rise and more people know of other people getting sick even with vaccines, it really adds to the panic buying,” he said. “This is when things get risky.”
It is difficult for sellers like Sinensky to manage inventory, given how unpredictable the coronavirus has been. “There was a time when it slowed down and you didn’t want to get stuck with it,” he said.
Today, however, he is convinced that masks will be a part of our daily lives for much of the foreseeable future: “I don’t think it will be a quick thing. So we don’t hesitate to start stocking as well as we do. were a few months ago. ”
We fell in love with the child size masks
Three-layer surgical masks have been a particularly hot seller for WeShield. “We can’t keep them on the shelves for more than a day,” Sinensky said.
Because masks and equipment are scarce again, prices are going up every week. Sinensky now pays 5 cents per mask, up from half a cent two weeks ago. He sells them for about 10 cents a piece.
He has also noticed more orders for masks from some of the least vaccinated areas in the United States, including Florida and Texas.
Masks are a particularly important layer of prevention for children too young to be vaccinated as they prepare for the start of the school year. Parents who stock up on school supplies for their children add masks to their shopping carts.
George Hartel, business manager of SchoolMaskPack, which makes and sells five-mask packs for children, teens and teachers, said he saw such a dramatic drop in sales earlier this year that he was preparing to completely leave the mask sector.
“We were going to capitalize on our new customer acquisitions and launch a children’s clothing brand, but over the past three weeks demand has come back strong,” Hartel said. “It’s at the same level if not higher than when it peaked last year in July and August.”
On average, consumers spend $ 50 and more per order, according to Hartel, as they stock up for the upcoming school year.
“We had a surplus, like many suppliers,” Hartel said. “But at the moment, it looks like we’re on the verge of getting closer to that.”