N. Texas surgical mask company scrambles to meet demand amid flu concerns

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by JIM DOUGLAS

WFAA

Posted on January 16, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 6 at 9:31 AM

FORT WORTH, Texas – To all parents, a plea from Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth: Don't bring your healthy children to the emergency room with your sick kids if you don't absolutely have to.

It's one step the hospital is taking to prevent the spread of flu.  

That includes making emergency orders for more surgical masks to protect health care workers. At this point, hospitals are not reporting a shortage in masks.  

Masks provide a critical defense. A cough from a flu-infected person can spread the virus up to six feet away. But United States care centers now get 80 to 90 percent of surgical masks from plants in China or Mexico.

One of the lone exceptions is Prestige Ameritech in North Richland Hills, which has grown to be the largest mask maker in the U.S. since it was founded in 2005.  

"We are shipping millions of masks weekly now, which is probably triple our normal volume," says company co-founder Dan Reese.

Hospitals must have them. Cook's says it's using 40 percent more masks than usual. It recently placed an emergency order.

"Actually, they needed the masks by 3 p.m.,” Reese said. "We were able to do that, being a local manufacturer."

Reese says hospitals are calling from across the country. About 65 employees work overtime to meet demand. His biggest worry –– if demand remains constant, what would happen in the case of a true pandemic?

"It demonstrates just how fragile the American mask supply is," Reese says.  

His company has about five million masks in its warehouse. He says there is no shortage and will be no shortage for his customers, which include Cook's and the hospitals of Texas Health Resources.  

The company is a wholesale provider that does not sell to individuals.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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