Masks Running Short for Philadelphia Healthcare Construction Workers

By Eric Althoff

PHILADELPHIA—As construction work has begun to resume in the City of Brotherly Love, construction workers are encountering a shortage in needed N95 safety masks.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, construction crews were asked to donate spare N95 masks to Philadelphia-area healthcare facilities, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, but now, with construction tentatively resuming, the city’s construction workers are finding it hard to get supplies of the masks they need to perform their work and protect their lungs from both dust and chemical fumes.

The N95 masks were plentiful on construction sites in early March, the Inquirer story found, and thus construction firms donated many to hospitals and other healthcare operations just prior to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe shutdown order. Hundreds of masks were donated by the construction industry to the healthcare sector at that time, according to the report.

Wolf has since loosened some restrictions put in place to tamp down the spread of the coronavirus in the Keystone State, thus allowing certain construction work to resume. Greater Philadelphia was hit especially hard by the virus, and thus the city is now experiencing a dearth of N95 masks. Amid the shortage, both healthcare and construction workers have been wearing masks longer than was typical before the pandemic prior to disposing of them.

Because supplies of the masks are running thin throughout the region, some contractors are seeking to source them however they can, which has led some to try to get to supply points ahead of competitors. Furthermore, larger firms with greater financial resources are typically able to purchase more masks in bulk before smaller companies can get even a few, the Inquirer report found. (And due to the basic law of supply and demand, a box of masks that a few months ago cost $20 now runs for twice as much.)

Other masks have been tried as well, but they aren’t as efficient at filtering particles as are the N95 masks. The Inquirer’s reporting found that many construction workers in Philadelphia are now even bringing their own masks from home to their job sites—if they have them. When those run out, some construction workers have been spotted without any face protection at all.

The concerns of mask-wearing at construction sites have less to do with transmission of the coronavirus itself and more to do with the airborne particles that construction work naturally unleashes. These include particles of concrete, insulation and lead paint, which are typically filtered out of the lungs with proper masking attire.