Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

“Why do Silicon Valley companies have such large stockpiles of masks?”

light hanging from a deck roof against a very blue sky

(Photo: Shala Howell)

We are on Day 14 of The Howells All Being Home At Once. It’s been a few days since I’ve had a chance to update Caterpickles. I hope that you and your families are as well as can be expected. We are hanging in there.

Today’s question: “Why do Silicon Valley companies keep such large stockpiles of masks?”

This week, Apple, Facebook, Tesla, IBM, and Salesforce have all announced plans to donate millions of masks to hospitals nationwide. Thanks to my diligent monitoring of the hotbed of crackpot conspiracy theory otherwise known as The Twitter, I have learned that people who live outside the Bay Area find it somewhat strange, if not outright nefarious, that these companies had any stockpiles to begin with.

So, is this a nefarious plot to weaken U.S. healthcare in a time of crisis?

Not necessarily.

One of the most surprising things about moving here was how bad the air quality regularly is during wildfire season. One year it got so bad, I had to cancel my mom’s Thanksgiving visit.

After a few especially bad wildfire years, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHA) Board recently started requiring companies to maintain a stash of face masks and other respiratory equipment to protect their workers.

Here’s an excerpt from the 2019 regulation:

“Where it’s reasonable to anticipate employee exposure to wild fire smoke, employers are required to provide employees with respirators for voluntary use in accordance with section 5144 when the current AQI for PM 2.5 is 151 or higher but less than 500. Use of respirators becomes mandatory when the current AQI for PM2.5 exceeds 500. Reference section 5141.1.”

Source: Standards Presentation to California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, Title 8, Division 1, Section 4, Subchapter 7: General Industry Safety Orders, Group 16: Control of Hazardous Substances, Article 107: Dusts, Fumes, Mists, Vapors and Gases, Section §5141.1: Protection from Wildfire Smoke.

The Bay Area has several days per year that meet the standard for providing protection under these regulations.

So it’s definitely possible, that these California regulations are the reason Silicon Valley companies have stockpiles of N95 masks and other respiratory equipment on hand. Hopefully, you will hear about more companies sharing their stash in the near future.

Apple only has 25,000 employees in the Bay Area, though. Why does Apple have 10 million masks?

In a recent tweet, Tim Cook announced that Apple would help healthcare providers source 10 million masks from Apple’s own supply chains.

This is leading to great confusion and conspiracy-spinning online. It’s worth pointing out here that it’s not clear whether Apple already had 10 million masks in its own stockpile or if it’s simply going to pressure its own suppliers to provide 10 million masks to U.S. hospitals as quickly as possible. It would help if Apple would clarify this, but for the moment they are remaining coy.

Your mileage may vary, but I’m too busy to add another conspiracy theory to my list of crazy things to monitor today, so I’m choosing to believe that Apple has a good reason to have whatever number of masks it has available to donate and is working with suppliers to obtain the rest.

Now that Silicon Valley’s on the case, can we all relax about PPE shortages?

Ha! No.

Ten million masks just from Apple’s suppliers sounds like a huge number. But is it really?

According to the American Hospital Association, there are 6,156 hospitals in the U.S. today. If Apple were to distribute its 10 million masks equally across each of those hospitals, each hospital would receive approximately 1,627 masks.

That’s just a drop in the bucket for hospitals at the heart of the COVID-19 outbreak. For context, an internal memo from New York City’s Presbyterian Hospital states that while the hospital normally uses only 4,000 masks a day, hospital administrators expect healthcare workers to use 40,000 – 70,000 masks every day during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Let’s say that on average Presbyterian Hospital workers end up using 55,000 a day. The 1,627 masks from Apple would last less than an hour.

If Apple were to send all 10 million masks to Presbyterian Hospital, those masks would last six months. Six months sounds great, until you remember that’s just one hospital, and the United States has 6,156 of them, all competing for scarce PPE resources.

To get a sense of the scale of the need, I visited Project N95’s website. Project N95 is an online clearinghouse that works with government agencies to match institutions in need of masks, ventilators, gowns, and other essential medical equipment with potential donors and suppliers. Currently, Project N95 has received more than 2000 requests from institutions for more than 110 million pieces of PPE. Presumably those 2000 requests are just a portion of the actual need.

Am I glad to see Silicon Valley companies, non-government organizations, and private citizens stepping up to help source masks and other much needed medical equipment?

Absolutely. Every little bit helps. Keep it up, y’all!

But for me, it’s also one more datapoint underscoring just how badly the U.S. needs a coordinated federal response to this pandemic.

Sources for this section

Today’s pandemic project

But soft! What leaf through yonder soil breaks?

Baby lettuce leaves in extreme close-up.
I’m so sorry, Shakespeare. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Today’s tidbit of Twitter humor

Tweet from @libbycwatson reads: "Mum reports from the village: the lady who dresses her ceramic duck up for various holidays and occasions (santa outfit, easter bunny etc) has risen to the covid challenge." Image is of a duck status in a garden covered in a crossing guard's uniform and wearing a face mask (hopefully not a medical grade one).
Hopefully that duck’s mask is not medical grade. (Tweet: @libbycwatson)

Education update

The rollout of the Education Resources has been a bit slower than hoped, however, I did post a preliminary list of Science and Math Resources this week. The Reading page is taking forever, because libraries, YA, MG, and picture book authors are really stepping up to help parents. There are a ton of resources out there, and just listing what I already know about is taking a long time.

As for our home-education attempts, there was a minor dust-up over Excessive Mommyo Nagging this week, so I have modified our process yet again. I now use Google Sheet’s Assignment Tracker template to list my daughter’s weekly assignments. I share that list each week with The Thirteen-Year-Old and her father. The Thirteen-Year-Old selects what she wants to work on each day, and updates the list as she completes the things on it. As long as Michael and I see sufficient progress on the list (and that progress reflected in Schoology), we are letting her work at her own pace.

Spreadsheet with columns for subject, assignment, status, due dates. Completed items turn grey.
The Assignment Tracker in Google Sheets in action. Michael and The Thirteen-Year-Old think I made this on my own, but really I just took Google Sheets’ existing template and added in my own data. (Photo: Shala Howell)

How about you? How are you holding up?

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