From the Los Angeles Times:
By JULIE JOHNSSON BLOOMBERG
APRIL 17, 20204:16 PM
Boeing Co. faces a quandary as it reopens its Seattle-area factories: how to keep its employees safe while minimizing the use of protective gear that’s desperately needed for medical workers.
The plane maker plans to limit scarce N95 masks for plant workers, relying mainly on cloth face coverings. In an April 9 letter to Washington state officials, Boeing cited new U.S. government guidelines directing companies to reserve the respirators for hospital staff on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.
Although fabric face coverings are federally approved, union officials worry they won’t adequately protect mechanics toiling shoulder to shoulder in tight spaces such as fuel tanks inside wings. And with testing and safety equipment still hard to get, it’s a preview of the tug of war between safety and societal interests that other companies will face when they begin summoning housebound employees back to work.
“We still have general concerns about how the company is able to keep the workplace safe when we go back,” said Jon Holden, president of IAM District 751, which represents about 32,000 Boeing machinists in the Puget Sound region. “That’s the million-dollar question: How do you keep someone safe in an environment like this? Will cloth masks be good enough to stop the spread of the virus?”
It’s ridiculous that our largest aircraft manufacturer can’t provide its highly paid machinists with disposable masks, but is instead asking them to improvise their own cloth masks, which, for guys working with rotating machinery, sounds like tempting Isadora Duncan’s fate.
The U.S. Defense budget should subsidize a certain amount of personal protective equipment manufacturing within the 50 states. Say that, oh, 50% of the Pentagon’s and Veteran’s Administration needs for masks, gowns, gloves, etc. should be domestically sourced, and that domestic manufacturers, in return for this protection from cheap foreign goods, need to have approved plans for how they would, say, quintuple production within 3 months.
This general class of problem is hardly unique in the history of nations, so it’s stupid that we are still throttled by it.