What’s happening is terrible and we all feel a bit helpless. We are staying home, trying to stay healthy, doing our best to support local brands and restaurants. We are struggling to keep our own businesses and livelihoods afloat while we are taking care of our families. These are wild and difficult times indeed. I feel for the people who have to go to work every day and risk their health to help other Americans. I feel for everyone that has been upended by this. I feel for the families who have lost loved ones. This is a rare event of a magnitude almost unimaginable.
The news is tough to read. I limit myself to certain trusted publications — The New York Times, The Atlantic, NBC News, WIRED, the LA Times and the Washington Post. I don’t read the Daily Mail because I am attempting to remain sane and there’s only so much wine in this house. It hasn’t been all bad news, there are encouraging things happening. Stories of selflessness from doctors and nurses and of communities coming together. It has been great to see Ford Motor start making Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and ventilators. Equally amazing to see the work that clothing brands are doing to rally to make (non-medical) masks for essential workers and high-risk individuals. Hertling was one of the first companies (in America) that I noticed which had re-purposed its factory to make masks to fight this pandemic. There are a lot of other brands all over the U.S. who are doing the same — including Reformation, the company my wife works for. In a small way, it makes me proud to be a part of an industry like fashion that can be fickle and destructive to the environment. I’m proud of the companies stepping up to help. I’m proud of the front line medical workers who risk their lives (and those of their families) to help us when we are our most vulnerable. These are the people who make me proud to be an American.
What doesn’t make me proud is the way our leaders in Washington, the Federal government and corporate America have yet again failed us.
I know this is not really the basis for this site or the reason anyone would come here, but I see a clear connection between what it means to make jeans in America and what it means to make the critical PPE and medical equipment when we need it. It’s not just about the cost of goods, it’s about the loss of important capabilities when they are most important. It’s about self-sufficiency and having the power to create things when we need it – not to depend on a foreign government to help us.
This story in the NYT about masks really alarmed me. China has basically nationalized a 3M factory (and others) and is not allowing the companies to export masks. Then I read this story in the Washington Post and I was furious. I am mad that people were warned and failed to do anything. I am pissed off that many experts have predicted this was going to happen, but the U.S. Government didn’t take it seriously. Very specifically I’m pissed off that everything is outsourced in the name of cost savings and profit. Deploying the Defense Production Act doesn’t mean much if it the components are made in China or if it takes 6 months to get our ridged manufacturing sector to spool up. It’s ridiculous that the medical system in America operates the way it does and that everything has become a profit center – including PPE. There are millions of Americans who need jobs and could be making this stuff. Even if the government was subsidising the production of PPE in non-pandemic times it would save money in the long haul and more importantly it would save lives. It would also decrease our dependency on other countries in times of emergency.
It seems obvious to me that the Berry Amendment should be extended to include critical pandemic supplies like N95 masks, ventilators, and other PPE. Or there should be a domestic health law like the Berry Amendment for critical health equipment. One of the craziest aspects of this crisis for billions of people all over the world is the fact that the origin of the virus in Wuhan is also the place where the vast majority of the world’s PPE is manufactured.
Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but think about the hidden costs of outsourcing that took place in this very specific case of PPE. Think about the hidden cost of the failure of leadership was too? Cheap PPE made in Wuhan isn’t so cheap after all.
While there are many reasons to be sad, angry or alarmed, there are a lot of people in the world doing amazing, selfless things. Among the many good places to support, perhaps consider the A Million Masks fundraiser here for healthcare workers or my sister-in-law’s fundraising at UCLA Medicine which can be supported here.