The domestic industry’s woes extend beyond the consumer mask market. In recent months, the medical supply giants that serve the country’s major hospital systems have eagerly resumed purchasing low-cost protective equipment overseas.

The companies, including McKesson, Henry Schein and Cardinal Health, have pressured the Biden administration to retain a tariff exemption on imported protective equipment that was put in place earlier in the pandemic. Those pushing for the retention of the Chinese mask tax exemption, including the American Hospital Association, say domestic producers cannot meet the ever-increasing demand for single-use respirators and other medical equipment. protection.

Opponents strongly disagree, noting that many U.S. companies are struggling to find institutional buyers as hospital systems increasingly turn to Chinese imports. The price difference is often a few cents per mask – enough to sway cost-conscious wholesale buyers.

In a letter they sent to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in October, a dozen Senate Democrats framed the issue as a national security issue. “Rather than taking the strain off Chinese-made products, we should invest and support our domestic manufacturers so that they are able to provide America’s healthcare systems and other essential workers with the high-quality PPE and life-saving supplies they need. to manage the Covid-19. pandemic and prepare for future threats to public health, ”they wrote.

A spokesperson for Ms Tai’s office said tariffs would be reimposed from November 30.

Company executives said they were encouraged by wording in the new infrastructure bill that strengthens existing rules forcing federal agencies to purchase domestically-made medical equipment.

But government spending alone is unlikely to save many companies, whose sales have plummeted amid the resurgence of Chinese imports, according to the American Mask Manufacturers Association, which says this nearly half of the group’s 25 members have stopped making masks in recent months.

“We’re hanging on to life right now, but the bridge is really against us,” said Brian Wolin, managing director of Protective Health Gear, an N95 start-up in Paterson, NJ, who rushed into the summer. last to rehire dozens of the workers who had been made redundant in the months leading up to the arrival of the Delta variant, resulting in increased sales.