Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tech Companies Weren't Hoarding Masks, They Were Protecting Employees From Wildfire Smoke

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown - March 25, 2020 at 10:12AM

U.S. tech companies have been donating a massive number of N95 particulate-filtering face masks to hospitals and health care workers. Holding up the old adage about no good deed going unpunished, some Americans have been lashing out at these companies.

Some of this has come in the form of hostility toward tech giants that's better suited for government officials here. And, sure, front-line workers in this pandemic shouldn't have to "rely on Silicon Valley for face masks." But the fact that Silicon Valley companies are stepping up to provide supplies we lack because of government mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak response, excessive regulations surrounding who can manufacture medical supplies, and generally poor pandemic prep from federal authorities is hardly a knock against these technology companies.

Some of the hostility has come from folks accusing tech companies of having hoarded N95 masks previously, or implying that there's something untoward about them having all these masks "just laying around."

Again, this ire is misplaced. Mask donations are coming from the likes of Facebook, Apple, Salesforce, Tesla, Flexport, Intel, and IBM, all headquartered or with operations in the Bay Area. That's an area wracked with wildfires, especially these days.

Last year, California amended health regulations to require employers in certain wildfire risk areas to provide voluntary N95 respirator masks for at-risk employees. The regulation, from California's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, took effect in August 2019 and is set to sunset after one year.

The types of masks mandated in California are not surgical N95 masks but those that block particles of dust, smoke, and construction byproducts. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed its rules to say that the non-surgical N95 masks were allowed to be used by health care workers and medical facilities.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook's reserve of masks had been "bought in case the wildfires continued." (He also said the company is trying to source "a lot more to donate.")

Do these donations come even remotely near to solving all our mask problems? No. But they still may save a lot of lives and prevent even more infections.

We're going to need private businesses big and small, state and federal authorities, charitable groups, and countless individuals to work together to get through this. Now isn't the time for the kind of reactionary, anti-markets, anti-Big Tech bias that's still too frequently coming from both the political left and right in the wake of COVID-19.


FREE MARKETS

A federal stimulus package was hashed out in Congress yesterday, calling for $2 trillion in direct aid spending. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) said the package contained "unemployment compensation on steroids."

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the total price of the economic stimulus plan will be about $6 trillion, once you factor in $4 trillion in Federal Reserve loans–making it the largest economic stimulus plan approved in U.S. history.

Stay tuned for more Reason commentary on the package later today. For now, here are some thoughts from Rep. Justin Amash (I–Vt.):

And check out Billy Binion's Tuesday interview with Amash about the idea of cutting direct checks to all Americans.


FREE MINDS

Prisons and jails are releasing people incarcerated for nonviolent crimes as facilities face COVID-19 outbreaks. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to release 300 people from Rikers Island and at least 1,700 jail inmates have already been released in Los Angeles County.

"Thousands of elderly federal inmates are incarcerated in prisons that could become hothouses for COVID-19, and advocates and members of Congress say the Trump administration needs to take rapid action to get them out of harm's way," Reason's C.J. Ciaramella noted yesterday. "On Tuesday criminal justice groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle—not to mention inmates themselves—urged the Trump administration to use existing compassionate release policies, as well as mass clemency or executive orders, to free at-risk federal inmates."

Related: "Why coronavirus in jails should concern us all."


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