Honeywell made N95 masks until hundreds were laid off, Doug Ducey’s contract money ran out

Almost two years ago a global pandemic swept the world and protective masks were scarce, so manufacturers rushed to make masks made in America.

Now that COVID-19 mutations are spreading the virus even among those who have been vaccinated, there is little pressure to do the same.

Citing a lack of demand for masks, global manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. has cut most of its production in Arizona in recent months.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases reinforced by the “extraordinarily contagious” variant Omnicron are on the rise in Arizona, according to the state’s health department.

An increase in the state began two days after Christmas with more than 7,000 cases showing no signs of slowing down, state records show. And that’s probably an underestimate because there are so many COVID-19 home tests. Days after the start of the new year, the state reported 7,212 new cases of COVID-19. More than 6,500 people have died from COVID-19 in the past six months in Arizona, including dozens every day in December 2020.

“Last year we saw a significant reduction in demand for N95 in the United States,” said Scott Sayres, spokesperson for Honeywell. “For this reason, Honeywell has adjusted its N95 operations and reduced manual production at our Chandler, Arizona plant to meet the demands of our customers and to align our operations with market demand.

The laid-off workers were encouraged to apply for other jobs within the company, Sayres said.

The Chandler operation “remains Honeywell’s largest N95 manufacturing operation” and is still in operation, according to the company. Across the valley, including all other business divisions, Honeywell employs 8,000 workers.

Honeywell rushed in mid-2020 to modernize manufacturing sites in Arizona and Rhode Island.

The move was hailed as a way to manufacture in America as overseas supply chains were crippled at the time. It seemed like a lasting trend. But the experiment did not fail until a year later.

Honeywell’s Phoenix expansion opened with great fanfare and a visit from then-President Donald Trump, though he refused to wear a mask inside the factory where the masks were made.

Honeywell has signed contracts to supply the National Strategic Reserve with personal protective equipment, such as masks for the US Department of Health and Human Services. The company has prepared to produce more than 20 million N95 masks each month between sites in Arizona and Rhode Island.

In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey purchased 6 million masks under a 12-month contract that began in April 2020. He has assigned the masks to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“I am grateful to Honeywell for stepping up its efforts and partnering with Arizona to help provide these masks to our doctors, nurses and paramedics on the front lines,” Ducey said in a statement at the time. .

Ducey’s office did not respond to comments for this story.

Elected officials promised Arizona residents hundreds of jobs during the economic crisis at the end of March 2020.

But just 13 months later, hundreds of Honeywell workers in Phoenix lost their jobs, 757 people to be exact. Then, 470 workers in Smithfield, Rhode Island, also lost their jobs.

That’s when many states abandoned mask warrants and COVID-19 vaccines prompted some residents to stop wearing masks altogether. Honeywell said there was a “dramatic reduction in demand for N95” at the time.

Since then, two variants of COVID-19 – this is Delta and Omnicorn – have forced many people to change course and reverse previous decisions.

Despite this, Honeywell had continued its largely automated mask factory operations in Chandler after ending the expansion of its Phoenix line. That was until mid-November when the company laid off 81 workers in Chandler. Honeywell had signed a long-term lease in West Chandler for a 150,000 square foot facility.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many people the company has in Arizona currently working on making N95 masks or when their lease might be up in Chandler.

Amid the transmission of the beat of the whip and new cases of COVID-19 in the new year, universities such as Arizona State University are now demanding higher quality indoor masks like N95s instead of surgical masks or fabric.

Fake masks are proliferating on the internet for sale as people scramble to find better quality masks for their children who are now back in school and for the workplace because the economy has forced workers to go back to work face to face.

For those looking to take the noise out of fake masks, there is an N95 clearinghouse with verified products.

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