In the early days of the pandemic, Michael Bowen owner of Prestige Ameritech emailed top administrators in the Department of Health and Human Services stating his company had four production lines running and could manufacture an additional 1.7 million N95 masks a week. Orders from all over the world poured in but Bowen wanted to give the U.S. first crack at obtaining the masks.
Laura Wolf, director of the agency’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection, responded that same day and said, “I don’t believe we as an government are anywhere near answering those questions for you yet.”
“We are the last major domestic mask company,” he wrote on Jan. 23. “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.”
In the end, the government did not take Bowen up on his offer. Even today, production lines that could be making more than 7 million masks a month sit dormant.