Millions of Cloth Masks Ordered for Military Personnel Won't Arrive Until Summer

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Volunteers construct face masks for base personnel at the Patuxent River drill hall
Volunteers construct face masks for base personnel on April 16, 2020, at the Patuxent River drill hall in response to COVID-19. Using mask frames 3-D printed through the Naval Air Warfare Center-Aircraft Division's iHub, the volunteers cut and affix polypropylene fabric to the frames before distributing them to essential personnel on base. U.S. Navy Photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Patrick Gordon)

The Defense Department has ordered three million cloth face masks for uniformed and civilian personnel, but the vast majority won't arrive until this summer, the Pentagon's top acquisition official said Monday.

"We have ordered face coverings for the workforce," to include three million active-duty, Guard, and Reserve members, and DoD civilians, "with deliveries starting this week," said Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

She said about 135,000 of the government-issue masks are expected to be delivered by the end of this month, and another 580,000 by the end of May, leaving the DoD more than two million short of the promised three million masks.

Related: DIY T-Shirt Masks and Balaclavas: Military Services Release Face-Covering Guidance

Lord gave no timeline for the delivery of the vast majority of the order, or details on how and when those available would be distributed.

On April 5, Defense Secretary Mark Esper sent out a memo directing all uniformed and civilian personnel on DoD facilities to wear cloth face coverings when they can't maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Effective immediately, to the extent practical, all individuals on DoD property, installations, and facilities will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers," Esper's memo states.

The result was that many resorted to hand-sewn and other do-it-yourself types of face coverings to make up for the overall shortage in medical face masks.

Lord made the announcement in a Pentagon teleconference and gave statistics on an improving DoD supply chain, which has come under criticism from some governors, who allege a slow and disjointed overall federal response to medical needs during the pandemic, particularly for ventilators.

She said the Defense Logistics Agency has thus far provided more than 1.8 million N95 respirator masks; 3.2 million non-medical and surgical masks; 54.8 million exam gloves; 8,000 ventilators; and 275,000 isolation and surgical gowns to the service branches, combatant commands and several federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition, Lord named the three companies that will receive a total of $133 million in contracts to produce face masks as part of the military's first use of Title III of the Defense Production Act, which gives the federal government broad authority to direct private companies to produce goods and equipment for the national defense.

Lord said that 3M Co., Honeywell International Inc. and Halyard, a unit of Owens & Minor Inc., are now under contract to produce 13 million N95 respirator masks a month for three months.

"This will help ensure our government has the industrial capacity to meet the nation's needs," she said. "The objective is to eliminate reliance on the foreign supply chain."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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