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AP investigation reveals nonexistent mask shortage

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Investigative reporters Jason Dearen, New York; Juliet Linderman, Washington; and Martha Mendoza, Santa Cruz, California, with Raleigh, North Carolina, video journalist Allen Breed, acted on a tip from a former federal official to reveal that hospitals were continuing to ration medical masks for their workers even when they had months of supply in store. The team’s investigation found a logistical breakdown at the heart of the perceived mask shortage, rooted in federal failures to coordinate supply chains and provide hospitals with clear rules about how to manage their medical equipment.

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Boxes of N95 masks are stored in a warehouse in North Richland Hills, Texas, outside of Fort Worth, in a Feb. 5, 2021 photo provided by the manufacturer, Prestige Ameritech. The company’s owner told AP: “I’m drowning in these respirators.” – Chris Tarrant / Prestige Ameritech via AP

The initial tip came from a source inside the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who shared pages of emails asking why U.S. manufacturers weren’t able to sell their products. In a series of interviews, the reporters surveyed hospital procurement officers representing more than 300 hospitals around the country and learned that all had two to 12 months supply of N95 masks in their warehouses, but almost all were limiting workers to one mask per day, or even one per week. Meanwhile, at least one manufacturer had so many masks warehoused that it recently got government approval to export them.

The story was used widely, and Dearen was interviewed live on CBS News, which also used Breed’s video.

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