ISEA held a dynamic media roundtable on December 10, 2020, which brought reporters together with ISEA leadership and representatives from 3M, DuPont, Moldex and MSA Americas, to spotlight the industry’s capacity to respond to surging PPE demand as the COVID-19 infection rate continues to increase — as well as to focus on ISEA’s efforts to help support federal and state preparedness for future public-health emergencies.

ISEA Chair Craig Wallentine pointed to America’s resiliency policy for energy, and the federal and state energy-security infrastructure, as an example of how the nation has successfully dealt with external shocks in the past. That approach would serve as a great preparedness model for future pandemics, he observed.

He also noted that ISEA and its members have been trying for over a decade to work with the government to help replenish and maintain the Strategic National Stockpile. “With almost 300,000 Americans dead, now is the time to really focus on this,” Wallentine told reporters. “We’re calling for Congress to pass legislation that would help manage the new system, with long-term funding, coordination between federal and state, and a data-driven program that would minimize unnecessary supply shocks. We’re all passionate about doing the right things so we can get PPE into the hands of people who need it.”

ISEA’s Role in the Pandemic

ISEA President Charles Johnson explained that the safety-equipment industry’s role falls into two categories: 

  1. Doing everything possible to provide the needed PPE that keeps workers safe.
  2. Keeping the market itself safe and effective.

Johnson told reporters that the industry has implemented historic increases in production, in addition to providing support through cooperative agreements with the government, including the Defense Production Act. He said the industry has also supported new entrants into the market, worked with regulators to cut approval times, and worked to increase the supply of PPE from other nontraditional sectors outside of the medical sector. That includes bringing to bear technologies not normally used in medical applications, including reusable technologies. “Our future stockpiles will include these reusable technologies and other solutions,” Johnson said.

He also emphasized that the industry has also tried to keep the market safe and effective, including strongly condemning price gouging and hoarding of PPE. “ISEA’s member companies who are established in this market have reaffirmed that they have not taken part in these practices, and that they are ultimately harmed when their branded products are marketed predatorially,” Johnson added.

Johnson explained that, when it comes to supplying PPE, the industry’s role is to better position the U.S. for future pandemics and other emergencies. ISEA is meeting this month with the Biden transition team to call for better quantitative forecasting and management for future emergencies, a more robust and regular partnership with the government and other entities who must prepare with stocks of these products for future emergencies, and for other policy solutions that forecast demand and better manage supply, through stockpiling, production capacity support, and other solutions that price future surge demand into the supply chain.

ISEA Members’ Input

Representatives from 3M, DuPont, Moldex and MSA Americas each offered their perspective to reporters on PPE supply and demand. Representatives included:

  • Mark Deasy, Director of Global PR and Strategic Communications, MSA Americas
  • David Kee, Global Product Management Leader, DuPont Personal Protection
  • Denise Rutherford, Senior VP of Corporate Affairs, 3M 
  • Bill Schubach, VP of Sales, Moldex

Denise Rutherford With 3M on PPE Fraud 

3M’s Rutherford said many other products besides N95 respirators have been used in “attacking this pandemic from all angles.” It’s very important, she noted, that our manufacturing ecosystem continues working together to respond and helping governments to respond, with ISEA facilitating the dissemination of information, and that “we partner together to have the facts on the table, make these issues known and address the critical problems.”

She expressed surprise and dismay that “fraud has been rampant throughout this period,” explaining that a global effort has been launched to address fraud, price gouging and counterfeits and protect the public. Rutherford said 3M’s legal team has investigated more than 9,400 cases to-date globally, and has been able to secure the removal of tens of thousands of e-commerce listings of fraudulent or counterfeit product.

“We want people to know they’re getting authentic product,” she said. “It’s very important to the performance of those products that they be to-standard, so [3M has] filed already 27 lawsuits in courts across the United States and Canada. We’ve also been able to win multiple temporary restraining and preliminary injunction orders in those cases to put a stop to…those unlawful activities.”

David Kee With DuPont on Tyvek® PPE

David Kee said DuPont has been maximizing its Tyvek® brand roll-good and protective garment manufacturing for the global COVID-19 response, and has been manufacturing at volumes never seen before by the company or the industry. While DuPont is, generally speaking, not a medical device manufacturer, said Kee, the company’s industrial-grade PPE “has always been called upon in a time of crisis to leverage our scale.”

He said DuPont continues to cooperate with the U.S. government and other governments and agencies globally to maximize its volume and speed in getting Tyvek® PPE to front-line responders. He added that, moving forward to the next normal, DuPont sees a step change in demand for its PPE, especially as markets involve, for cleaning and disinfecting to enable workers to return to work and society to return to normal activities.

Bill Schulbach With Moldex on Combating Price Gouging

Moldex’s Bill Schubach explained that his privately held, family-owned company is the second-largest N95 producer in North America, behind 3M, and not only immediately added shifts and people when the pandemic hit, but also placed all distributors on allocation to make sure existing customers received a consistent supply and service the medical market to a greater extent than they previously had — without raising prices beyond standard pricing.

He said his company also had seen price gouging and substandard product in the marketplace, so Moldex provided support to law enforcement and did its own testing to see if other KN95 respirators met the standard, discovering that many did not. Schubach noted that price gouging is not only nefarious, it also damages the brand.

He added, however, that there’s good news as well, in the form of a lot of charitable work done in the industry. For example, Moldex donated tens of thousands of N95 respirators to local hospitals. He said they have also seen many distributors pivot by shifting allocations of N95 respirators earmarked for industrial customers who may have been shuttered and getting them instead to hospitals, healthcare facilities and others in greater need. “Most people in our industry try to do the right thing,” emphasized Schubach.

Mark Deasy With MSA on Reusable Respirators

MSA’s Mark Deasy explained his Pittsburgh-based company is the only publicly traded company on the NYSE exclusively focused on safety, and has been in business since 1914. MSA is not a manufacturer of N95 masks, but rather is focused on use and re-use of elastomeric respirators to address PPE insecurity issues. Throughout 2020, Deasy explained, MSA has been working with healthcare officials, NIOSH, the University of Maryland, and the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh to help them launch a PPE program that relies largely, though not entirely, on elastomeric half-mask respirators.

Update on PPE Stockpiles

Reporters asked ISEA leaders and company representatives a variety of questions about PPE supplies and the status of the Strategic National Stockpile. Charles Johnson noted that the industry has always supported the stockpile program, were partners with the government when the stockpile was first formed, and ISEA members supplied the original stockpile as it was first envisioned. He noted that the stockpile going into 2020 was not at the levels for which it was originally forecast for PPE stocks. Johnson pointed out that, even had the stockpile been fully stocked as originally envisioned, those amounts would have been insufficient to address the full demand from the COVID-19 crisis.

As ISEA has said before, the industry needs broad public and healthcare-industry support to help encourage states and the federal government to replenish their emergency stocklines. Congress should pass legislation that calls for long-term funding for both state and federal stockpiles — and that requires replenishment purchases to be made only from reputable sources. This long-term commitment is needed to encourage more US companies to enter the US supply market.

A reporter noted that the incoming Biden administration has discussed Berry Amendment requirements for PPE and the other ways to encourage more domestic PPE production; the reporter asked if ISEA supports rules to increase domestic production. In response, Johnson said that, in general, the safety industry believes that Buy America provisions, if they are prescriptive, limit PPE availability during public health emergencies. But federal government support for domestic production can help supply-chain resiliency, which in turns helps the industry.

The Future of PPE Standards

Other questions arose regarding PPE standards. “ISEA believes that standardized safety equipment is better safety equipment and that it protects the user when it is standardized,” responded Johnson. “So, our industry supports standardization of barrier face masks, and there have been multiple efforts throughout 2020 to move in the direction of standardization for barrier face masks. It’s possible that ISEA could develop that standard.”

He also noted that ISEA members support a standard for source control, and the sooner a standard can be introduced for that market the better. Johnson emphasized that ISEA doesn’t make recommendations for the PPE that should be used in an emergency, but rather partners with emergency preparedness agencies in the federal government to help them make recommendations.

Cristine Fargo, ISEA’s VP of operations and technical services, added that ISEA is supportive of products that meet voluntary consensus standards, which she said provide a level of confidence for consumers, thereby freeing up N95s and other masks needed by healthcare workers and others on front lines. “The industry is responding, the Association is responding, and its membership is responding, and we do anticipate seeing something in the next few months as a recognized voluntary industry standard,” said Fargo.

Looking Forward

ISEA published a White Paper which details policies that should be implemented to ensure the United States is better prepared to deal with PPE demand in future health emergencies. Download PPE Police Prescriptions here.

ISEA will be publishing a new impact report that details the economic, job, and safety impact of our industry at the federal and state level, showing the total number of people protected. This report will be available very soon online at safetyequipment.org.

“It has been a challenging year,” Johnson concluded. “It has been heartening to see this industry step up and be a critical partner with the U.S. government in the response to the COVID crisis. We will continue to do so through the winter months.”