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The Story of an American Mask Distributor

By SAURABH JHA

Seven weeks before President Trump declared COVID-19 a federal emergency heralding the economic lockdown, Jesse’s customers began cutting their orders. Jesse sells garments and cotton, imported predominantly from India, to wholesalers and retailers, big and small, in malls across the North East corridor.  His business had a good January. December was like any December. But February was different.  His customers, reassuring him that it wasn’t personal, were predicting a falling demand for their products because of COVID-19. They may be over reacting, but better shortage than glut, they felt.

Jesse, who has no medical background, had heard of a virus which quarantined cruise ships, but nothing seemed foreboding back in February. He had tuned out the President, who was being his usual clownish self. It was business as usual in Manhattan, where he lives. He received reassuring messages from public health figures about the novel coronavirus. New York City’s mayor was particularly upbeat, urging New Yorkers to mingle with even more vigor.

Jesse didn’t know how to reassure his customers. A week later, more customers cancelled their orders. By middle of February, the orders halved. Being a businessman, not philosopher, it mattered not to him why his customers had seemingly overestimated COVID-19’s threat. What mattered is that they had. Since his business operated on small margins, the reverberations could be substantial. The first order of the day was reducing the output of his factory in India which was running on all cylinders.

The second order of the day was survival. If his customers’ fears came true, his business would be destroyed. Jesse had no qualms accepting government bailout. But this was long before the federal government announced relief for businesses. The virus had yet to strike Italy. COVID-19, like Chengiz Khan, seemed to prefer the eastern perimeters of the Silk Road.

In his culture, Jesse Singh is an American Sikh hailing from the Punjab – there’s a simple rule. When customers don’t want a certain product, find something else to sell. His family motto is that you should love the act of selling, not the product being sold (the motto sounds better when said by a Punjabi in Punjabi).  

Another Punjabi rule, technically not a rule but part of their cultural RNA, is that Punjabis don’t sit idle. During the partition of the subcontinent, thousands of Sikhs arrived at Delhi train station hungry, battered, penniless, and homeless, after losing their homes and families to the mobs. After feeling sorry for themselves for a couple of days, they started selling tea and biscuits on the railway platforms.

If the panic from coronavirus could shut old businesses it surely could open new ones, Jesse thought. A soaring demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) seemed obvious. Since N-95 supply was regulated, he threw his weight behind surgical masks, believing that they’d be demanded by healthcare workers and eventually the general public. He decided to import a small batch on a trial basis.

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Patients & Vulnerable Populations Pandemically Left in the Dark

By GRACE CORDOVANO PhD, BCPA

To be honest, the United States blew it on the mask front. From a public health, caregiver and patient safety, as well as community transmission standpoint, we are at least 3 months late to game. Anytime a brand new virus that humanity does not have any immunity to makes an appearance, is highly contagious, starts rapidly infecting people as well as the doctors and nurses caring for them, hospitalizing, and killing them in concerning numbers across the globe, we should enable every proactive safety measure at our disposal.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the US was on January 20, 2020. The general public and the millions of people who are considered at high-risk for complications from COVID-19 were advised that wearing masks in public was unnecessary. Many individuals were shamed and called out for wearing masks in public, being directly blamed for personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages on the front-lines. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of masks and PPE are exported out of the country by brokers daily. People out in public have been mocked for a spectrum of reasons, being criticized as to why masks were being worn, used to run errands, and for removing them incorrectly. On April 4, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that the general public wear cloth face masks in public where social distancing may be difficult, such as at the grocery store or pharmacy, especially in areas where cases of the infection are high for active transmission.

There has been extensive media coverage of PPE shortages at hospitals on the front-lines of this pandemic. Protecting our doctors, nurses, and all caregivers and first-responders is of utmost priority as we work to fight against COVID-19. As a patient advocate, patient, and carepartner to 2 disabled adults, with multiple family members in the high-risk population, was the call-to-action for the public to wear masks delayed so as to not risk further depleting PPE needed for those directly caring for patients sick with COVID-19?

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