Swine flu has surgical mask maker ramping up production

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 28, 2009 

Surgical masks are rolling off the production lines as fast as they can be made at Prestige Ameritech in Richland Hills.

A major U.S. producer of surgical masks, the company is ramping up to meet the demand for the protective masks amid growing concern over the spread of swine flu.

Partners Dan Reese and Mike Bowen hope it will be enough. Federal health officials concluded more than a year ago that the nation could face a shortage of surgical masks if a pandemic were to strike, because 90 percent of the masks used in the United States are made elsewhere, largely Mexico and China.

"We're hoping it's not the big one," said Bowen, the company's executive vice president. "And we hope it makes our country wake up to the fact that we're dependent on foreign products."

For now, the company is expanding its production line to capacity, producing boxes of surgical masks for wholesale distributors and suppliers, including 3M, who sell to hospitals and doctor's and dentist's offices. And it is looking to hire additional workers to go to seven-days-a-week production while demand is high.

They're expecting a shortage of masks, if only because of the expected demand from non-medical workers. Federal officials called the company within the past several days asking about production capacity, pricing and other supply details.

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