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North Texas Face Mask Manufacturer Says Company Can't Meet Coronavirus Demand

TARRANT COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) - Their website says they are 'America's largest domestic surgical mask maker' and now the North Texas company is facing a conundrum.

With the spread of the coronavirus Prestige Ameritech is being inundated with orders from around the world. Executive vice president Mike Bowen said, "It's a madhouse. We are going as fast as we can."

The company makes face masks, surgeons masks -- that prevent the spread of viruses and diseases -- respirators, goggles, and other products. Their North Richland Hills facility is cranking out some 600,000 masks a day, but Bowen says demand is about 1,000 times higher than what it is under normal conditions.

protective face mask
(credit: iStock/Getty Images)

China is a major global manufacturer of protective gear like masks and gloves, but with the coronavirus outbreak the country has slashed exports and increased production for domestic distribution.

While his roughly 100 North Texas employees work to fill what requests they can, Bowen says he's fielding about 100 calls a day -- everywhere from foreign governments to airports -- trying to find masks and respirators.

They company also heard from hospitals and other health care organizations, groups of concerned citizens, worried mothers, even the company's own competitors, all asking for the products they can't keep on the shelves.

As a rule Prestige Ameritech does not ship its products internationally, but Bowen said its reach has transcended borders in the last 30 days, with the company selling 1 to 2 million masks to buyers who then sent them to China and Hong Kong.

Bowen has said he could only make about a 1 million masks a day if he ran his machines 24/7, but that it would have very little impact on the global demand.

Learning from the company's reaction to the 2009 swine flu pandemic, Bowen says he isn't hiring additional staff or increasing production times because if/when the outbreak subsides his businesses would be forced to downsize.

"Everybody said they'd stay with us. The day after the [swine flu] pandemic they forgot who we were. We nearly went out of business," Bowen said during a recent podcast.

Currently the coronavirus has sickened more than 80,000 -- most in mainland China -- and killed more than 2,700. Here in the U.S. there have been 14 diagnosed cases, none of which were in Texas, but officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they anticipate an escalation of the outbreak.

The CDC has said it "does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases." Experts say washing your hands frequently is the best way to prevent the spread of infectious illnesses like coronavirus or, more commonly, the flu.

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