A company that offered to make life-saving protective masks as the coronavirus began its spread across the U.S. in January was snubbed by government officials.
Michael Bowen, the owner of medical supply company Prestige Ameritech, told the Department of Health and Human Services that he could begin producing 1.7 million N95 masks a week, only to be denied, The Washington Post first reported.
“We still have four like-new N95 manufacturing lines,” Bowen emailed a top HHS official on Jan. 22, the day the first coronavirus case was detected in the country. “Reactivating these machines would be very difficult and very expensive but could be achieved in a dire situation.”
Laura Wolf, director of the agency’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection, responded that the government wasn’t “anywhere near answering those questions for you yet” in response to Bowen’s offer.
“We are the last major domestic mask company,” Bowen emailed the next day. “My phones are ringing now, so I don’t ‘need’ government business. I’m just letting you know that I can help you preserve our infrastructure if things ever get really bad. I’m a patriot first, businessman second.”
The new revelation is part of an 89-page whistleblower complaint from former federal vaccine chief Rick Bright, who alleges he was removed from his position as retaliation for his early warnings about the pandemic and his refusal to make “potentially harmful drugs” to combat the virus.
The newly revealed emails also show that Bright attempted to warn agency leaders about mask shortages, citing Bowen’s offer. But the offer fell “on deaf ears,” Bright told Bowen in an email.
“U.S. mask supply is at imminent risk,” Bowen replied. “Rick, I think we’re in deep shit.”
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