AUSTIN (KXAN) — Public health officials have said if you have the flu or cold, they recommend that you wear a mask to minimize the spread of germs. If you try to find one right now, however, it might be difficult.
Wednesday, local doctors and nurses told KXAN they’re running out of regular masks, as well as N95 masks, and they weren’t sure if their reorders would be filled in a timely manner.
- READ: Risk getting sick or don’t see patients: healthcare providers facing conflict as N95 masks run out
In east Austin, a locally owned company called Savilino is in the business of making uniforms and aprons for restaurants. But, during the virus outbreak, no open dining rooms means no business.
“It’s heartbreaking for us personally as business owners, but also all of our interactions, friends, they’re all in the service industry,” said Christopher Savittiere, owner of Savilino.
He said he had to lay off his workers, but over the weekend, he got an idea.
“Since we know how to sew, try to put that skill to use,” Savittiere explained.
They’re now making masks. As orders come in, his employees can work to fulfill those and get paid.
The masks they’re making are not meant to do what N95 respirators do.
“Mainly to help you keep from touching your own nose and mouth,” Savittiere said.
And if you’re wondering why supplies like masks have become extremely hard to find, the University of Texas at Austin Lecturer Bradley Gold explained the reason is twofold.
First, companies are used to using the “just-in-time shipping” model.
“One of the ways that companies can keep prices lower for us as consumers is by not having a gigantic backlog of inventory,” he said.
Second, products are made from many different components. “They’re assembled in stages in several places all over the world,” Gold said.
According to Gold, if you see empty shelves of a certain product, “[it’s] a supply chain weakness. It doesn’t mean that anybody was doing anything wrong. It just means that in this very very rapidly changing and unusual environment, some companies, some products, some supply chains are going to prove much stronger than others.”
He said it could take a while to untangle the two elements — the just-in-time shipping model and where the parts come from — and for companies to figure out a new way to make and deliver products. But you can help.
At this time, “store shelves are refilling [with some products],” Gold said. “We don’t have to buy every last item that is on the shelf.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Christopher Ziebell, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Dell Seton Medical Center UT, says that while diminished supplies exist in other areas, it’s not currently a concern here.
“We’re taking steps to try and conserve that supply. So we don’t have a big fear of that in this community at this time,” said Ziebell. “I know some people in other parts of the country are having some pretty significant shortages. I can’t promise we won’t have that at this time that we won’t be one of those. So we’re being frugal with how we use the equipment, but we are using it to protect ourselves.”