The U.S. 'could take a similar approach' as other countries, mask manufacturer explains

American Mask Manufacturers Association Founder & President Lloyd Armbrust joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the state of masking in the U.S. and what the government can do going forward.

Video Transcript


ZACK GUZMAN: Well, the US continues to react to the latest guidelines coming out of the CDC on the pandemic COVID front. And the latest one there, for people who have tested positive, the isolation time getting brought down from 10 days to 5 days, though the CDC does recommend strict mask use for people who have tested positive. And of course, that raises the question of what masks should they be using, or maybe more broadly, struggles that some Americans have had when it comes to getting the top tier line of masks, N95s.

And for more on that, I want to bring on one of the leading mask manufacturer groups. American Mask Manufacturers Association founder and president, Lloyd Armbrust, joins us here, alongside Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani. And Lloyd, appreciate you taking the time. I mean, when we talk about masks, obviously we've come a long way in this pandemic. N95s of course being kind of the gold standard, those used in health care.

But we haven't necessarily seen a huge push in really getting those to Americans. And people have been kind of-- earlier in the pandemic, we saw a lot of images of people on the extreme fronts using underwear, bandannas, whatever they could find. And given what we know, there are some people saying, you know, it's surprising to not have the government make a larger push for N95s now. So I mean, what's your take on maybe all that?

LLOYD ARMBRUST: Ha, that's a great question, Zack, and thanks for having me. I mean, it's pretty crazy when you compare us to other countries like South Korea, who the moment that the pandemic struck there, they sent every South Korean, I think it was 10 or 20 KF94s, which is their sort of N95 standard there. And if you look at their case rates and their death rates, it's far, far less on a per capita basis than us.

So it does seem like a no-brainer that the greatest country in the world would take a similar science-based approach, but that hasn't been the fact.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Lloyd, I know that you've written to the president about this, really offering a lot of your clients the opportunity to provide these masks to Americans through, I guess, a federal contract, essentially. We know that initially, to Zack's point, in the start of the pandemic, supply was an issue. Supply chain constraints were there. Now we don't have that problem. What's the situation and what could the federal government really do?

LLOYD ARMBRUST: I mean, they could take a similar approach to other governments. And we're even seeing Connecticut do this, right, sending millions of masks to their citizens. I think it's a really smart approach. I think it's something that was-- it was even initially pitched at the start of the pandemic in the United States, partnering with the postal system to send every American a certain number of masks.

It's kind of a no-brainer from a science-based approach. I think the reason we haven't seen it in the United States is because of the sort of weirdly political take that masks have taken. People, I think, don't have the political energy to be talking about masks. And at least when we spoke to folks very high-- senior at the White House, that's kind of what we got from them, that it was just something they really didn't want to tackle and they chose to go for vaccines instead.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Right. And we know there have been sort of issues, not just with the masks but also the testing, and we're finally getting some response there after a lot of advocacy. To your point, though, some state-level governments have been taking it on, Connecticut being just one of them that is recently saying that they're going to send not just the masks but also at-home test kits to the state's residents.

We could be seeing that more on a state level. Have you talked to state governors to maybe increase the supply there?

LLOYD ARMBRUST: Yeah, we've had a lot of conversations. You know, I'm based in Texas. Initially we worked with the state government to supply masks for all of the Texas teachers and situations like that. Again, I think the weirdly political angle that masks have taken have-- some states have decided to sort of step away from masks just because it doesn't meet their basest needs.

But I think that as we really start focusing on the science, one of the things that I love seeing now in the media is that everyone is talking about you don't need a cloth mask. That's not going to protect you. Like you really need at a minimum a surgical mask or even better, an N95 mask. And I think as a lot of folks are starting to really understand that message, they're taking it into their own hands.

That's what we're seeing with our members. And I'm also a mask manufacturer. We are seeing more consumer traffic and consumer sales than we've ever gotten from governments or hospital systems.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, then that leads to my question, which is, why then push for a government attention if consumers are taking it in their own hands, are getting the message, and you're seeing that response? Is it basically a good chance to get a really lucrative government contract at this point? Is that something that's sort of appealing? Or is it more than that?

LLOYD ARMBRUST: Yeah. I mean, so for me, the reason to get a government contract, which wouldn't be that lucrative-- the thing that we pitch to them was basically maintaining operations of the 30 mask manufacturers that we represent all across the United States. And the idea for that would be just supply chain resiliency.

So what we're looking for from the government is sort of a standing order to keep the machines running, to keep paying rent and things like that. So that in the next pandemic or the next wave, we will actually be here and not have to rely on consumers. Fortunately, America is being America, and the market is being the market. And it's actually responding and paying the bills at this point.

But at some point, you know, Omicron's going to go down. There's-- maybe there's not a next wave, and then all of that manufacturing will go away if there's not a market to support it.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, that's the interesting thing too, around, I guess, some of the earlier excuses as to what we heard in regards to N95s was that, no, save them for health care workers. And though they might be more effective in blocking COVID and reducing the spread, you just got to leave it for them because they're in a riskier situation. I mean, that-- it seems like you're saying that that storyline is now not true, that manufacturing has made it so that you can meet both sides of demand there.

I mean, what are you seeing in terms of, I guess, what made that so? Was it maybe a change in messaging or just kind of stepped-up progress from all the manufacturers you represent?

LLOYD ARMBRUST: I mean, Zack, I don't know that it was really ever true except for about five minutes, to be honest. I mean, we had-- we did have a shortage for a couple of minutes, as you mentioned, where people were turning their T-shirts into masks. But it was over very, very quickly.

And that was one of the things we were really pushing the White House on, was-- and in fact, was the whole reason we wrote the letter. The CDC and OSHA and the government was saying, save masks because we don't have enough in the United States. And we actually formed our group to prove to the administration that that wasn't the case.

To show them-- actually look at our factories, look at our production numbers. We have enough. In fact, at the time we wrote that, which was early this year, we were starting to shut down manufacturing lines just because there wasn't enough demand for such things.

ZACK GUZMAN: Especially when you think about the messaging earlier on about N95s and whether or not-- if that was out there, maybe people wouldn't have turned to some of these other things like bandannas earlier on. But all very interesting. Lloyd Armbrust there, American Mask Manufacturers Association founder and president, alongside Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani. Appreciate the time. Interesting chat.