What will mask makers do now that the mandate is over?


The dozens of startups that ramped up domestic mask production at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic are struggling to stay afloat days after the federal mask transportation order was lifted.

On the brink of collapse, many small homegrown manufacturers are pointing the finger at the federal government over their problems, accusing them of taking measures in the early days of the pandemic that actively harmed their businesses, such as: B. Restrictions on the advertising of personal protective equipment and dubious government orders for masks.

“I would say this lifting of the mask requirement, even if [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] she strongly suggests, it’s kind of another emotional blow to the industry, which has stood up because it was told to do so by the federal government and the country as a whole,” Luis Arguello Jr., the president of the Miami-based company DemeTECH, told the Washington Examiner. “So you will find that the majority of us manufacturers are closing right now. Most have already done so, but that’s kind of the final straw.”


Around 7,000 jobs in the domestic mask market industry were lost last year, estimates Nicholas Smit, executive director of the American Mask Manufacturer’s Association. The AMMA, which was formed during the pandemic to represent small producers, had about 50 members at one point, but about half of them have gone out of business, according to Smit. Most of the remaining companies have significantly reduced their production and labor force.

“I would say we have maybe five to ten left in six months,” Smit said Washington Examiner. “We’ve already lost about half of the domestic bulk manufacturers, and about half of the remaining ones, if not more, will go under within the next two to four months.”

The pandemic has propelled demand for face masks into a massive boom that is now on the brink of collapse. While there is some demand for masks, smaller manufacturers are struggling to promote their products due to restrictions imposed in the early days of the pandemic when the United States faced massive shortages of protective gear. Back then, health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci told the public not to use face masks for fear it could deplete medical workers’ supplies.

“The government was afraid that people would take care of the healthcare system. So Facebook, Google and others put a ban in place so people can’t even advertise that they have PPE or their company or anything,” Smit said. “There is still demand and people are saying they are desperate for masks. But all companies just went there in the end [multinational corporation] 3M because people don’t know they’re there.”


AMMA has urged the Biden administration to adjust the remaining rules restricting PPE, but the measures are mostly “still in effect,” Smit said. Some companies like Facebook have become soft their bans and allowed “legitimate companies” to advertise medical masks like N-95, but Smit says small businesses continue to face major obstacles to issuing advertisements.

As a result, large hospitals and retail outlets have often opted to purchase masks, sometimes from foreign sources full of fakesseemingly unaware of the dozens of small domestic manufacturers who have millions of masks to sell.

One of the toughest competitors domestic producers have faced was the government, John Bielamowicz, a co-founder of the Texas-based company United States maskhe said Washington Examiner.

“We didn’t expect that to compete with free,” Bielamowicz said, citing the January White House decision to give out millions of high-quality masks for free. “I saw one yesterday, just a basket of free N95s provided by Health and Human Services. So our question is, “Where’s our share?” … We are essentially on the verge of being put out of business by our own government.”

United States Mask co-founders John Bielamowicz (left) and David Baillargeon (right) stand in front of crates filled with N95 in a warehouse. The duo founded the company in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

(Image courtesy of United States Mask)

The government has bought millions of masks over the course of the pandemic and given many of them to the public for free. But many well-connected and legacy mask makers like 3M and Honeywell gobbled up most of those deals, leaving the little boys behind, said Bielamowicz, who co-founded United States Mask with David Baillargeon in 2020.

DemeTECH got some government contracts during the Trump administration when the pandemic was fresh, but the Biden administration’s contracts were much more limited, according to Arguello.

The foreign competition that hit mask makers before the pandemic is also mauling small mask makers. Even large domestic mask makers have relied on offshore operations to drive down prices. United States Mask, for example, pays its workers at least $15 an hour and sources its raw materials from the United States. Businesses in China can often undercut this by relying on cheaper labor or government subsidies.

“Industrial and hospital users immediately return to the lowest cost,” said Baillargeon Washington Examiner. “They immediately go back to their old habits. The government picks winners and losers, and we’re going to be the proverbial baby with the bathwater, along with a handful of other people who don’t spend millions of dollars lobbying every year.”

United States Mask sales rose briefly in the days after the mandate was lifted, but business has been difficult in recent months, Baillargeon and Bielamowicz said. The two continue to hope they can keep their heads above water due to medical facility demand for certified N95s, which the company is focusing on.

While DemeTECH has been forced to drastically reduce its mask production, the company has been able to relocate within the facility as the family business makes a range of medical products, Arguello Jr. said.

“We have been manufacturing medical devices for decades. So we’re not new to this. And we’ve been able to leverage the other products we make to move people,” he said. “But a lot of the other companies in the industry aren’t so lucky. They just switch off and stop producing.”


A federal judge in Florida last week dejected a federal mandate requiring passengers to wear face masks on public transportation like airplanes, in a blow to one of the biggest COVID-19 mask mandates. After a day of confusion over the Biden administration’s plans, the Justice Department signaled so intends to appeal the verdict however, apart from a suspension, so that it can remain in force for the time being.

The daily average of new COVID-19 cases in the United States reached 44,308 on Friday, marking a slight increase over the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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