Earlier today someone asked if I’d be writing an article about potential tool shortages and delays due to Coronavirus containment efforts, which have shut down factories slowed production in China. Frankly, I lack the information, insights, and experiences to speculate about how all this will affect future tool shipments.
However, there is something I have noticed – many brands and styles of disposable respirators are sold out at many online retailers, and those that aren’t are being sold at exorbitant pricing.
3M 9211+ folded N95 disposable respirators, the style I like due to their small storage size, have skyrocketed in price on Amazon, from ~$22 for a 10-pack to $145 for 20 respirators via a 3rd party seller.
The same has happened on Amazon, Ebay, and other marketplace sites, where the price of respirators are several times higher than usual.
Looking at Home Depot, all of the respirators I looked at are now marked as unavailable for delivery and with “call to confirm availability” notices of limited supplies.
I’d guess that the more basic and less expensive masks, such as the 3M 8210 (typically ~$20-25 for a 20-pack) sold out first, and then the more premium models with exhaust valves started selling out.
At the time of this posting, a 3rd party retailer on Walmart’s website is selling 3M 8210 respirators for $13 each.
Reusable respirators don’t seem to be affected as much.
For example, I bought a GVS respirator for $30, and it’s currently priced at $28 via Amazon. It’s not immediately available, but a 1-2 day shipping ETA is a lot better than a red “unavailable” notice.
A 3M “paint project respirator,” a 6000-series respirator with organic vapor cartridge and particulate filters, is the same $31.47 on Amazon as I paid a year and a half ago.
Reusable respirator components still look to be in stock at the retailers I checked.
Health experts have recommended against the “hoarding” and use of masks by the general public, saying that hand washing with soap and water is effective at protecting yourself from contracting viral infections such as the common cold, flu, and coronavirus. They also recommend against touching any part of your face until you’ve had a chance to wash your hands.
It is generally said that flu-prevention practices, such as avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth in public when you could have touched a contaminated surface, can help prevent other viral infections as well.
If someone is sick, then the use of a mask in public places can help prevent the spread of infections fluids during coughing or sneezing. Or, there’s always coughing into your elbow, which is what is currently being taught and encouraged in schools and public spaces.
(Keep in mind that I’m not a medical authority, and I’m just relaying what I’ve read numerous times over the past few weeks.)
I don’t know how current coronavirus containment efforts are going to affect the tool industry in the weeks and months to come. But, disposable respirator shortages and price-hikes are a very real issue now.
If you rely on disposable respirators for your work or hobbies, I really don’t know what to tell you.
Retailers are sold out.
Online retailers are sold out.
The largest industrial suppliers in the country are sold out.
One supplier I checked is quoting a May 2020 backorder ETA, around 10 weeks from now. At least the pricing is typical – ~$22 for a pack of 20 basic N95 masks (3M 8210). The same May 2020 ETA is listed for various other 3M respirators as well, and might not be accurate. A 3rd party seller on Amazon also has a May shipping ETA, but they’re charging nearly $58 for the same 20-pack.
So… what to do if you need a respirator for your work or hobbies? What do you do if you need a respirator NOW? Reusable face masks and respirator filters or cartridges are one option. But what if you need disposable respirators, which are often smaller, lighter, and can be discarded when soiled or contaminated? I really don’t know.
These shortages and price-hikes are a problem, and it doesn’t look like it will ease up anytime soon. Government agencies and commercial buyers are likely going to get priority over current and near-future deliveries, which makes sense.
It was recently reported that the FBI ordered $40K in face masks and hand sanitizer from 3M and PDI Healthcare.
Chances are, retail inventories of disposable respirators of all kinds won’t be replenished anytime soon.
Are these disposable respirator shortages affecting you? What alternative PPE gear are you replacing them with, or will replace them with once your supplies run out – reusable face masks and filters?
Personally, I plan on using my GVS and 3M face masks until I can restock my supply of disposable respirators. The GVS uses P100 filters, and so does the 3M 6000-series half masks. Don’t forget that reusable face masks are not one-size-fits-all. I believe that 3M’s medium size fits most people, but double check with sizing guides.
I might buy a couple of extra replaceable filters, which still look to be in stock at my typical suppliers/sources. But disposable respirators? It’ll likely be a while before anyone has them in stock and at regular pricing.