At a March 17 White House press conference, the Trump Administration called on construction companies—which face their own mask shortages—to donate masks to health care facilities to support needs of ospitals and clinics.
"We would make one specific request, and that is we would urge construction companies to donate their inventory of N95 masks to your local hospital and forgo additional orders of those industrial masks," said Vice President Mike Pence.
The statement comes as Congress considers legislation that would include additional N95 liability protections for companies that manufacture and sell masks.
"Because of what the president asked to be included in legislation moving through the Congress today, those industrial masks that they use on construction sites are perfectly acceptable for healthcare workers to be protected from a respiratory disease," said Pence.
The Associated General Contractors is reaching out to its contacts at the White House to get a better understanding of what the vice president meant, said Brian Turmail, its spokesperson.
“We want to know if that is official policy or an off-the-cuff remark,” he said. “We want to know how serious a request this is before we ask construction workers to fork over their livelihood. They obviously wouldn’t be able to work without those masks.”
Pence's comments came as many construction firms face mask shortages and shipping delays. In early March, manufacturer 3M said it was increasing production at its Aberdeen, S.D., plant from five days a week to “running around the clock in response to the coronavirus outbreak.” 3M makes its masks for U.S. distribution primarily in American facilities.
But supplies continue to run short.
Chris Shank, education director at the Painting Contractors Association, says some members are concerned about the lack of available masks to protect workers. While many consumers depleted supplies when they made a run on masks in early March, he says contractors are concerned that some peer firms may also be hoarding supplies.
“There is some concern from our business owners saying, ‘let’s to not overreact,’” he said. “We need to make sure there is enough to go around.”