L.A. bought $19 million worth of N95 masks early in the pandemic. Resales are lagging
As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped Los Angeles in April 2020, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city had agreed to buy 24 million N95 masks made by Honeywell and resell them to hospitals and nursing homes.
The news provided a glimmer of hope amid widespread alarm about the nationwide shortage of personal protective gear for first responders. Price-gouging and counterfeits were also common as buyers sought the masks.
A little more than a year later, with mask demand slowing and supplies more plentiful, the city has resold only about one-third of the Honeywell N95 masks that it has received under the $19 million deal, according to records reviewed by The Times.
The city has spent about $10.4 million on the masks to date, with resales through May 4 of this year totaling about $3.4 million, records show. The city is receiving 1.2 million masks a month and paying as it receives the shipments.
Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, who helped oversee the city’s program to buy and resell personal protective gear, cautioned that it was too early to judge the success of the mask initiative and that dips in sales are expected.
“We’re gonna have some stockpile, we’re gonna keep selling,” Seroka said.
The city paid 79 cents per mask — less than the $3.30 per mask the state of California agreed to pay in a deal with Chinese automaker BYD. At the same time, the city received smaller shipments of the masks upfront under its deal and didn’t get the bigger orders until the summer and fall.
Ronny Elfassy, supply chain logistics manager at International Medical Corps, said that until L.A. made the Honeywell gear available, the company had to obtain personal protective equipment from China because it was in such short supply in the United States.
The nonprofit organization, which responds to global disasters, has purchased about 1 million N95 masks from the city to donate to long-term care facilities in the Los Angeles area. Elfassy praised the city, saying he couldn’t think of another vendor that had such a quick turnaround after an order.
“Our operations drastically changed since we started working with the city,” he said.
Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said L.A. isn’t eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement for the purchase because the city is not the end user of the masks.
Sanfield also said the city will stockpile the masks for future pandemics or natural disasters, such as wildfires.
“The demand for N95s is down,” said Steve Borgquist, president of procurement company Beacon Purchasing, which also bought masks from the city. He said there is the beginning of a surplus in the industry.
“No one predicted the sharp increase in demand from COVID and it took the industry supply chain approximately a year to catch up,” he said.
Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar said the masks filled an “urgent need” at a time of uncertain availability and the city’s investment will make it prepared for future events.
The N95 masks are intended for medical staff and other groups, and different than the cloth masks widely used by the general public.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director recently said evidence has shown that it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to go without masks in most places.
California health officials said the state’s current mask rules will remain in place until June 15.