How ‘Chaos’ In The Shipping Industry Is Choking The Economy

Whidbey Island is a lovely place about 30 miles north of Seattle on the Puget Sound. Most days the tranquil sounds of rolling waves and chirping birds provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. But these days, all is not so serene. Residents are complaining about the ruckus created by humongous container ships anchored off their shore.

“We’ve never seen them this close before,” a Whidbey Islander told a local news station. “We’re hearing the throbbing noise at night. … It’s a nuisance.” The noise has been so loud that residents have been complaining to the county sheriff’s office about it.

Whidbey Islanders are getting a front row seat to the growing U.S. trade deficit, which is hitting record highs. It’s fueled by a surge in demand for imports, mostly from East Asia. There’s so much cargo being shipped to the U.S. from Asia right now that the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are chock-full of container ships.

“We are seeing a historic surge of cargo volume coming into our ports,” says Tom Bellerud, the chief operations officer of The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which manages all cargo processing at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. “The terminals are having a difficult time keeping up with processing all the cargo off these vessels fast enough.”

On both land and at sea, the entire supply chain is struggling to keep up. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s become such a clusterfest that the U.S. Coast Guard has been redirecting boats to anchor off the coast of Whidbey Island and other places they typically don’t park. Ship crews are having to wait days, even weeks, for the chance to dock at the ports and offload their precious goods.

It’s the same story up and down the West Coast. In San Francisco Bay, the traffic jam of container ships has gotten so bad that the U.S. Coast Guard has been asking ships not to enter the bay at all. Robert Blomerth, director of the USCG’s San Francisco Vessel Traffic Service, said last week that there were 16 container ships waiting in the open ocean outside the Golden Gate to get in and unload their cargo. He says it’s “completely abnormal.”

When we spoke to Gene Seroka, the head of the Port of Los Angeles, he said his port had 19 ships waiting to dock and they’re now waiting, on average, about five days to get in. In normal times, they don’t have to wait at all.

Lars Jensen, CEO of Vespucci Maritime, has spent 20 years studying the industry and he says what’s going on is unprecedented. “The container shipping industry is in a state of chaos that I don’t think it has ever been since it was invented,” he says.

The maiden voyage of the first container ship set sail from Newark, N.J., back in 1956. It may be hard to fathom just how big a deal this innovation was. It was just a big ship that carried containers, literally metal boxes. But these metal boxes enabled ships to carry dramatically more cargo, and, by standardizing shipping practices and using new machines to handle the boxes, shippers were able to slash costs and the time it takes to load, unload and transport that cargo.

Economists credit these metal boxes with increasing the efficiency of shipping so much that it stitched the modern global economy together more than anything else — more than all free-trade agreements put together.

Now economists are concerned that the plumbing provided by these miracle boxes and the vessels that transport them is clogged. It’s making it more difficult for stores to restock their shelves, manufacturers, carmakers and builders to get the parts they need, and farmers to export their products. It’s an important reason, analysts say, that we’re seeing consumer prices surge.

How did shipping get topsy-turvy?

In the early days of the pandemic, global trade hit an iceberg and sank into the abyss. The decline of maritime shipping was so dramatic that American scientists saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study what happened to whales in the absence of a constant deluge of vessels. The noise from the ships apparently stresses them out — kind of like they’re currently stressing out the residents of Whidbey Island.

Greater tranquility for whales in the first half of 2020 was the result of shipping companies canceling their trips and docking their ships. Then the economy rebounded, and American consumers unleashed a tidal wave of demand that swept through the shipping industry when they started shifting their spending patterns. Unable to spend money on going out, many started spending their money (and their stimulus checks) on manufactured goods — stuff that largely comes from China on container ships.

At first, it wasn’t the ships that were the problem; it was the containers. When the buying spree began, Chinese exporters struggled to get their hands on enough empty boxes, many of which were still stranded in the U.S. because of all the canceled trips at the beginning of the pandemic. More importantly, processing containers here has been taking longer because of all the disruptions and inefficiencies brought about by the pandemic. Containers have been piling up at dockyards, and trains and trucks have struggled to get them out fast enough.

“The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding problems with the nation’s supply chain, not just at the ports but in the warehouses, distribution centers, railroads, and other places that need to run smoothly in order for Longshore workers to move cargo off of the ships,” says Cameron Williams.

He’s an official at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dock workers, primarily on the West Coast. Dock workers have been working through the pandemic to handle the increased cargo volume, he says, and at least 17 ILWU workers lost their lives to COVID-19. “We continue to work hard and break records month after month to clear the cargo as quickly as the supply chain allows,” Williams says.

It’s been all hands on deck to supply ravenous consumers and businesses with the stuff they want. The resulting traffic jams at West Coast ports means it takes longer to unload stuff, which then extends the time it takes for ships to get back across the Pacific to reload.

That congestion was already creating massive delays on both ends of the shipping supply chain, tying up large numbers of containers and ships and leading to growing backlogs and shortages. Then, in March 2021, the Ever Given, one of the largest container ships in the world, got stuck in the Suez Canal in Egypt. While the blockage didn’t directly affect the Asia-West Coast shipping corridor, it added to the global shortage of ships and containers by stranding even more of them out at sea.

As if all this weren’t enough, last month there was a COVID-19 outbreak at the Yantian International Container Terminal in China, which is normally one of the busiest ports in the world. The Chinese government implemented stringent measures to control the outbreak, and as a result, more than 40 container ships had to anchor and wait. “In terms of the amount of cargo, what’s going on in South China right now is an even larger disturbance than the Suez canal incident,” Jensen says.

The effects on the American economy

With so much shipping capacity bogged down, importers and exporters have been competing for scarce containers and vessels and bidding up the price of shipping. The cost of shipping a container from China/East Asia to the West Coast has tripled since 2019, according to the Freightos Baltic Index. Many big importers pay for shipping through annual contracts, which means they’ve been somewhat insulated from surging prices, but they are starting to feel the pain as they renegotiate contracts.

Rising shipping costs and delays are starving the economy of the stuff it needs and contributing to shortages and inflation. It’s not just consumers and retailers that are affected: American exporters are complaining that shipping companies are so desperate to get containers back to China quickly that they’re making the return trip across the Pacific without waiting to fill up containers with American-made products. That’s bad news for those exporters — and for America’s ballooning trade deficit.

As for when it’s going to get better, none of the people we spoke to believes it’ll be anytime soon. And it’s not even considered peak season for the shipping industry yet. That typically begins in August, when American stores start building their inventories for the back-to-school and holiday seasons. The residents of Whidbey Island may have to continue dealing with the nuisance of gigantic, noisy ships cluttering up the horizon for the foreseeable future.

By:

Source: How ‘Chaos’ In The Shipping Industry Is Choking The Economy : Planet Money : NPR

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References:

Shipbuilding NewsCruise Ship News, Ports News ,Salvage News ,Training News ,Government News, Environment News,Corporate News, Maritime Executive , Volga Targets Market, Nuclear-Powered Cargo Ship, China’s Exports, American Vulkan’s Service Team, JFE Steel, OMSA, OceanManager Inc.

Here’s What Could Happen When $300 Unemployment Expires, According To Goldman Sachs


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Amid reports of labor shortages and fears of economic overheating thanks to what some view as excessive government stimulus spending, a total of 26 states are now planning to end the $300 federal unemployment supplement in order to spur hiring—here’s what analysts from Goldman Sachs expect to happen once payments stop.

Key Facts

Goldman’s analysts point out that since 25 of the states ending the benefit early only account for 29% of pandemic job losses, it’s likely that the pressures on the labor market—worker shortages and a depressed labor force participation rate—will continue until the benefits expire in every state at the beginning of September.

The analysts note that it’s too soon to say how the early end of benefits will affect official employment statistics—that insight will likely be contained in the July jobs report the Labor Department will publish in August.

That said, claims for regular state unemployment insurance benefits have fallen faster in states that have announced they will end the supplement early—the analysts say this is a “hint” that hiring will pick up once the benefits are phased out, but note that other data like the volume of job postings don’t yet support that conclusion.

The analysts say their “best guess” is that the expiring benefits will “provide a significant tailwind to hiring in the coming months,” spurring growth of more than 150,000 jobs in July and more than 400,000 jobs in September, though they note that the prediction is still uncertain.

Based on previous academic studies, the analysts estimate that a typical worker receiving regular state benefits will see those benefits drop by 50% once the $300 supplement expires in their state, and the duration of their unemployment would fall roughly 25%.

Crucial Quote

“The temporary boost in unemployment benefits . . . helped people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and are still maybe in the process of getting vaccinated, but it’s going to expire in 90 days,” President Biden said during prepared remarks after the release of the May jobs report last week. “That makes sense.”

Big Number

$12 billion. That’s how much local economies in the 24 red states that had announced an early termination of the $300 federal supplement as of June 2 are expected to lose as a result of ending the benefit early, according to a report from Congress’ Joint Economic Committee.

Surprising Fact

On Thursday, Louisiana became the first state with a Democratic governor to announce the early expiration of the $300 supplement. The other 25 states have Republican governors.

Key Background

An emergency federal unemployment insurance supplement was first authorized in the amount of $600 per week as part of the CARES Act last year. A new supplement of $300 was authorized by executive order under President Trump after the first supplement lapsed. The $300 supplement was extended once by Congress as part of a stimulus bill last December, and again by Congress as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Further Reading

Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards Becoming First Democratic Governor To Cut $300-A-Week Federal Unemployment Benefits (Forbes)

Biden: It ‘Makes Sense’ That $300 Unemployment Will End In September (Forbes)

California And Florida Are Sending Out More Stimulus Checks. Could Your State Be Next? (Forbes)

IRS Releases Child Tax Credit Payment Dates—Here’s When Families Can Expect Relief (Forbes)

Source: Here’s What Could Happen When $300 Unemployment Expires, According To Goldman Sachs

I’m a breaking news reporter for Forbes focusing on economic policy and capital markets. I completed my master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. Before becoming a journalist, I worked as a paralegal specializing in corporate compliance.

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Critics:

Several coronavirus relief bills have been considered by the federal government of the United States:

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package or American Rescue Plan, is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 117th United States Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession.First proposed on January 14, 2021, the package builds upon many of the measures in the CARES Act from March 2020 and in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, from December.

Beginning on February 2, 2021, Democrats in the United States Senate started to open debates on a budget resolution that would allow them to pass the stimulus package without support from Republicans through the process of reconciliation. The House of Representatives voted 218–212 to approve its version of the budget resolution.

A vote-a-rama session started two days later after the resolution was approved, and the Senate introduced amendments in the relief package. The day after, Vice President Kamala Harris cast her first tie-breaking vote as vice president in order to give the Senate’s approval to start the reconciliation process, with the House following suit by voting 219–209 to agree to the Senate version of the resolution.

Prior to the American Rescue Plan, the CARES Act from March and in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, from December were both signed into law by then-president Donald Trump. Trump previously expressed support for a direct payments of $2,000 along with Joe Biden and the Democrats. Even though Trump called for Congress to pass a bill increasing the direct payments from $600 to $2,000, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the bill.

Additionally, the House voted on the HEROES Act on May 15, 2020, which would operate as a $3 trillion relief package, but it wasn’t considered by the Senate as Republicans said that it would be “dead on arrival”.Prior to the Georgia Senate runoffs, Biden said that the direct payments of $2,000 would be passed only if Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won; the promise of comprehensive Covid-19 relief legislation was reported as a factor in their eventual victories.On January 14, prior to being inaugurated as president, Biden announced the $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

See also

World Economy is Suddenly Running Low on Everything

https://i1.wp.com/onlinemarketingscoops.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/1x-1.jpg?resize=924%2C616&ssl=1

A year ago, as the pandemic ravaged country after country and economies shuddered, consumers were the ones panic-buying. Today, on the rebound, it’s companies furiously trying to stock up. Mattress producers to car manufacturers to aluminum foil makers are buying more material than they need to survive the breakneck speed at which demand for goods is recovering and assuage that primal fear of running out. The frenzy is pushing supply chains to the brink of seizing up. Shortages, transportation bottlenecks and price spikes are nearing the highest levels in recent memory, raising concern that a supercharged global economy will stoke inflation.

Copper, iron ore and steel. Corn, coffee, wheat and soybeans. Lumber, semiconductors, plastic and cardboard for packaging. The world is seemingly low on all of it. “You name it, and we have a shortage on it,” Tom Linebarger, chairman and chief executive of engine and generator manufacturer Cummins Inc., said on a call this month. Clients are “trying to get everything they can because they see high demand,” Jennifer Rumsey, the Columbus, Indiana-based company’s president, said.“They think it’s going to extend into next year.”

The difference between the big crunch of 2021 and past supply disruptions is the sheer magnitude of it, and the fact that there is — as far as anyone can tell — no clear end in sight. Big or small, few businesses are spared. Europe’s largest fleet of trucks, Girteka Logistics, says there’s been a struggle to find enough capacity. Monster Beverage Corp. of Corona, California, is dealing with an aluminum can scarcity. Hong Kong’s MOMAX Technology Ltd. is delaying production of a new product because of a dearth of semiconductors.

Further exacerbating the situation is an unusually long and growing list of calamities that have rocked commodities in recent months. A freak accident in the Suez Canal backed up global shipping in March. Drought has wreaked havoc upon agricultural crops. A deep freeze and mass blackout wiped out energy and petrochemicals operations across the central U.S. in February. Less than two weeks ago, hackers brought down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., driving gasoline prices above $3 a gallon for the first time since 2014. Now India’s massive Covid-19 outbreak is threatening its biggest ports.

For anyone who thinks it’s all going to end in a few months, consider the somewhat obscure U.S. economic indicator known as the Logistics Managers’ Index. The gauge is built on a monthly survey of corporate supply chiefs that asks where they see inventory, transportation and warehouse expenses — the three key components of managing supply chains — now and in 12 months. The current index is at its second-highest level in records dating back to 2016, and the future gauge shows little respite a year from now. The index has proven unnervingly accurate in the past, matching up with actual costs about 90% of the time.

To Zac Rogers, who helps compile the index as an assistant professor at Colorado State University’s College of Business, it’s a paradigm shift. In the past, those three areas were optimized for low costs and reliability. Today, with e-commerce demand soaring, warehouses have moved from the cheap outskirts of urban areas to prime parking garages downtown or vacant department-store space where deliveries can be made quickly, albeit with pricier real estate, labor and utilities.

Once viewed as liabilities before the pandemic, fatter inventories are in vogue. Transport costs, more volatile than the other two, won’t lighten up until demand does. “Essentially what people are telling us to expect is that it’s going to be hard to get supply up to a place where it matches demand,” Rogers said, “and because of that, we’re going to continue to see some price increases over the next 12 months.” More well-known barometers are starting to reflect the higher costs for households and companies. An index of U.S. consumer prices that excludes food and fuel jumped in April from a month earlier by the most since 1982. At the factory gate, the increase in prices charged by American producers was twice as large as economists expected. Unless companies pass that cost along to consumers and boost productivity, it’ll eat into their profit margins.

A growing chorus of observers are warning that inflation is bound to quicken. The threat has been enough to send tremors through world capitals, central banks, factories and supermarkets. The U.S. Federal Reserve is facing new questions about when it will hike rates to stave off inflation — and the perceived political risk already threatens to upset President Joe Biden’s spending plans.“You bring all of these factors in, and it’s an environment that’s ripe for significant inflation, with limited levers” for monetary authorities to pull, said David Landau, chief product officer at BluJay Solutions, a U.K.-based logistics software and services provider.

Policy makers, however, have laid out a number of reasons why they don’t expect inflationary pressures to get out of hand. Fed Governor Lael Brainard said recently that officials should be “patient through the transitory surge.” Among the reasons for calm: The big surges lately are partly blamed on skewed comparisons to the steep drops of a year ago, and many companies that have held the line on price hikes for years remain reticent about them now. What’s more, U.S. retail sales stalled in April after a sharp rise in the month earlier, and commodities prices have recently retreated from multi-year highs.

Caught in the crosscurrents is Dennis Wolkin, whose family has run a business making crib mattresses for three generations. Economic expansions are usually good for baby bed sales. But the extra demand means little without the key ingredient: foam padding. There has been a run on the kind of polyurethane foam Wolkin uses — in part because of the deep freeze across the U.S. South in February, and because of “companies over-ordering and trying to hoard what they can.”

“It’s gotten out of control, especially in the past month,” said Wolkin, vice president of operations at Atlanta-based Colgate Mattress, a 35-employee company that sells products at Target stores and independent retailers. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”Though polyurethane foam is 50% more expensive than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic, Wolkin would buy twice the amount he needs and look for warehouse space rather than reject orders from new customers. “Every company like us is going to overbuy,” he said. Even multinational companies with digital supply-management systems and teams of people monitoring them are just trying to cope. Whirlpool Corp. CEO Marc Bitzer told Bloomberg Television this month its supply chain is “pretty much upside down” and the appliance maker is phasing in price increases. Usually Whirlpool and other large manufacturers produce goods based on incoming orders and forecasts for those sales. Now it’s producing based on what parts are available.

“It is anything but efficient or normal, but that is how you have to run it right now,” Bitzer said. “I know there’s talk of a temporary blip, but we do see this elevated for a sustained period.” The strains stretch all the way back to global output of raw materials and may persist because the capacity to produce more of what’s scarce — with either additional capital or labor — is slow and expensive to ramp up. Read more…..
By Brendan Murray, Enda Curran, Kim Chipman, Bloomberg

Source: World economy: World economy is suddenly running low on everything – The Economic Times

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References

“Research and development expenditure (% of GDP) | Data”. data.worldbank.org. Retrieved 12 December 2017

Labor Shortage Will Push Wages Higher, According To Bank Of America

A man hands his resume to an employer at the 25th annual...

As the U.S. economy roars back to life, new analysis from Bank of America suggests wages are likely to climb higher in the near term thanks to mismatches between supply and demand for workers.

Employers are desperate to staff up quickly to meet surging consumer demand, but some workers have been slow to return for a number of reasons including virus concerns, childcare constraints, early retirement and more generous federal unemployment benefits, BofA senior U.S. economist Joseph Song wrote in a Friday research note.

It’s already clear some workers are holding out for higher pay before they reenter the workforce: The average self-reported reservation wage—the lowest wage a worker says they will accept to start a new job—has grown 21% since the fall for people earning less than $60,000 per year, according to data from the New York Fed.

According to Song’s analysis, wage growth will be stronger in sectors that were hit hardest by the pandemic—including construction, real estate and hotels and food service.

Those are also the industries that tend to employ more workers at the lower end of the income spectrum. The mismatch in the labor market will abate later this year once the reopening boom abates and more Americans return to work, according to Song, which will lessen the upward pressure on wages.

Crucial Quote

“The current labor shortage should sort itself out by the fall as growth normalizes to more sustainable levels and more workers return to the labor force as health concerns subside and generous UI benefits expire by September,” Song wrote. That means wage growth could slow down a little as employers pull back on pay following big wage hikes this year and once they no longer need to compete with a $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement.

What To Watch For

Next year, Song expects wages to rise again when unemployment reaches prepandemic levels, though that growth will be driven by “better labor market fundamentals” rather than transitory factors like the pandemic and enhanced government unemployment benefits.

Big Number

4.2%. That’s the unemployment rate Bank of America is predicting for the end of 2021, down from 6.1%. It expects unemployment will fall even further to 3.5% at the end of 2022.

Key Background

Companies are already beginning to raise their wages to attract more workers as they reopen. Amazon is raising its average starting wage to $17 per hour and McDonald’s plans to raise its average starting pay at company-owned stores to $15 per hour by 2024. Chipotle said earlier this month that it will raise its average wage to $15 per hour by the end of June. Under Armour said Wednesday that it is hiking its minimum wage from $10 to $15 per hour, and Bank of America itself announced this week that it would raise its U.S. minimum wage to $25 per hour by 2025.

Tangent

As big businesses hike pay, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that some small businesses are struggling to remain competitive. The chief client officer at a St. Louis office furniture dealership told the Journal that he has had to raise wages in order to fend off competition for workers from larger companies including Amazon.

Further Reading

Biden Administration Doesn’t Think It Can Force States To Pay $300 Unemployment Benefits, According To Report (Forbes)

As Fears Of Worker Shortages Grow, White House Economists Say Covid-19 Is To Blame—Not $300 Unemployment Benefits (Forbes)

Could Covid-19 Worker Shortages Create A $15 Minimum Wage—Even Without A New Law? (Forbes)

At Least 21 States Dropping $300-A-Week Federal Unemployment Benefits (Forbes)

I’m a breaking news reporter for Forbes focusing on economic policy and capital markets. I completed my master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. Before becoming a journalist, I worked as a paralegal specializing in corporate compliance

Source: Labor Shortage Will Push Wages Higher, According To Bank Of America

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The Macroeconomics of Labour Markets

The labour market in macroeconomic theory shows that the supply of labour exceeds demand, which has been proven by salary growth that lags productivity growth. When labour supply exceeds demand, salary faces downward pressure due to an employer’s ability to pick from a labour pool that exceeds the jobs pool. However, if the demand for labour is larger than the supply, salary increases, as employee have more bargaining power while employers have to compete for scarce labour.

The Labour force (LF) is defined as the number of people of working age, who are either employed or actively looking for work (unemployed). The labour force participation rate (LFPR) is the number of people in the labour force divided by the size of the adult civilian non-institutional population (or by the population of working age that is not institutionalized), LFPR = LF/Population.

The non-labour force includes those who are not looking for work, those who are institutionalized (such as in prisons or psychiatric wards), stay-at-home spouses, children not of working age, and those serving in the military. The unemployment level is defined as the labour force minus the number of people currently employed. The unemployment rate is defined as the level of unemployment divided by the labour force. The employment rate is defined as the number of people currently employed divided by the adult population (or by the population of working age). In these statistics, self-employed people are counted as employed.[5]

The skills required in a labour force can vary from individual to individual, as well as from firm to firm. Some firms have specific skills they are interested in, limiting the labour force to certain criteria. A firm requiring specific skills will help determine the size of the market.[6]

Variables like employment level, unemployment level, labour force, and unfilled vacancies are called stock variables because they measure a quantity at a point in time. They can be contrasted with flow variables which measure a quantity over a duration of time. Changes in the labour force are due to flow variables such as natural population growth, net immigration, new entrants, and retirements.

Changes in unemployment depend on inflows (non-employed people starting to look for jobs and employed people who lose their jobs that are looking for new ones) and outflows (people who find new employment and people who stop looking for employment). When looking at the overall macroeconomy, several types of unemployment have been identified, which can be separated into two categories of natural and unnatural unemployment.

References

Paul, Oyer; Scott, Schaefer (2011). Personnel Economics: Hiring and Incentives. Handbook of Labor Economics. 4. pp. 1769–1823. doi:10.1016/S0169-7218(11)02418-X. ISBN 9780444534521.

Should Healthy People Wear Masks to Prevent Coronavirus? The Answer May Be Changing

If you have no symptoms of the coronavirus, should you wear a mask? It’s one of the most-asked questions during this pandemic, and until recently, one of the most easily answered—if you follow the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s answer, up until April 3? No. According to its initial guidelines, outside of health care settings, face masks should only be worn by people who are sick or who are caring for someone who is sick (when the person who is sick can’t wear a mask). A mask helps capture some of an ill person’s cough particles that might otherwise spread to other people.

But federal guidance around masks has changed. On April 3, President Trump announced that the CDC now recommends that the general population wear non-medical masks—meaning fabric that covers one’s face and nose coverings, like bandanas or cut T-shirts—when they must leave their homes to go to places like the grocery store. The measure is voluntary. The mayors of Los Angeles and New York City have already made similar recommendations. In other parts of the country, it’s not voluntary: for example, officials in Laredo, Texas have said they can fine people up to $1,000 when residents do not wear a face covering in public.

In other parts of the world, governments have given different answers to this question from the start. During the current coronavirus outbreak, China’s national guidelines recommend different types of face masks for people in the general public based on their health risks and occupations. But the U.S. government’s initial anti-mask messaging was so strong that the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, tweeted on Feb. 29, “Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

In the next few weeks, experts’ tones became more equivocal, suggesting that a supply shortage, not necessarily a complete lack of efficacy, may have partly driven the U.S. government agencies’ earlier guidance. In a March 26 interview with basketball star Stephen Curry, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “When we say you don’t need to wear a mask, what we’re really saying is make sure you prioritize it first to the people who need the mask. In a perfect world, if you had all the masks you wanted, then somebody walking in the street with a mask doesn’t bother me—you can get some degree of protection.”

So, do masks really help protect the healthy public after all? Will a T-shirt actually prevent you from getting sick? The answers are controversial and not fully known. Here’s what physicians and face-mask researchers say.

What has changed recently?

Scientists now know that people who are infected with the new coronavirus can spread it even when they don’t have symptoms. (This was not known in the early days of the current pandemic.) Up to 25% of infected people may not show symptoms, said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield in a recent NPR interview. They’ve also learned that people who are symptomatic shed the virus up to two days before showing symptoms. “This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread across the country,” Redfield said.

This silent spread also bolsters the case for people in the general population to always wear masks when in public, since anyone could be sick. “Now with the realization that there are individuals who are asymptomatic, and those asymptomatic individuals can spread infection, it’s hard to make the recommendation that only ill individuals wear masks in the community setting for protection, because it’s not clear who is ill and who is not,” says Allison Aiello, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, who has researched the efficacy of masks.

So should everyone wear a mask?

Both ideologies—that everyone in the general population should wear a mask, and that they should not be used widely—have fervent supporters. People in the first camp point to the scientific studies finding that masks can help protect healthy people from symptoms of influenza-like illnesses, at least a little bit, and note that masks can help protect against asymptomatic spread. If everyone wears a mask when they leave their house, then people who have the virus but who don’t have symptoms will be wearing a physical barrier that can catch infected droplets that escape their mouth or nose. That helps protect everyone.

People in the second camp believe that the available scientific evidence does not show that masks are effective enough in public settings to warrant a mass recommendation, and that wearing one may give people a false sense of protection and embolden them to ignore recommendations that are actually effective, like staying away from other people. They also believe that wearing a mask can inadvertently encourage people to touch their face more.

“There are some very strong opinions on both sides,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a physician and scientist in infectious diseases in Canada. Bogoch says he lands somewhere in the middle. “If we look at the public health side—in western countries, not in Asia—lots of the messaging reflects that these masks aren’t going to help you,” he says. “I think we need to be a bit more honest and transparent that there is some data that would demonstrate some potential benefit of masks, but of course there are large caveats. The data supporting this is not strong, but I think it’s hard to be dogmatic and overly dismissive of the data.”

On the other hand, “it is very clear that many people wearing masks are negating any benefit from this by wearing the wrong mask, or touching their face to adjust the mask, and aren’t appreciating that if you’re practicing physical distancing and truly are separate from other people by six feet, mask wearing is unlikely to provide incremental benefit,” Bogoch says.

A severe mask shortage

What’s not up for dispute is that the U.S. is in the midst of a mask shortage. Health care workers can’t get the personal protective equipment (PPE) that they need to take care of coronavirus patients, including N95 respirators (tight-fitting facial devices that filter out small particles from the air) and surgical masks (loose-fitting, disposable masks designed to block splashes and large-particle droplets that contain viruses and bacteria, but which don’t filter or block very small particles in the air transmitted by coughs or sneezes).

“We know that there’s probably greater risk [of infection] in healthcare settings just because of the nature of the work that’s being done and the patients who are here,” says Dr. Erica Shenoy, associate chief of the infection control unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. Masks—when used with handwashing, eye protection, gloves and gowns—can help protect health care workers as they have sustained interactions with people infected with COVID-19.

In response to the growing knowledge that even people without symptoms can spread the virus, in late March, Shenoy’s hospital and others in Boston implemented a universal masking policy in which staffers wear surgical masks throughout their shifts in clinical or common areas. “You can’t really social distance when you’re taking care of patients or when you’re working side by side with your colleagues,” Shenoy says.

Because of the shortage, the new federal recommendations about masks for the general public aren’t about N95 respirators or surgical masks, but about homemade ones.

Still, if the shortage resolves and the general population can eventually get access to surgical masks, it’s worth knowing if they can help protect the healthy public.

What the science says about masks

There are several studies testing how well surgical masks help tamp down on the spread of respiratory viruses and protect healthy people from getting sick. “Across these studies, it’s quite consistent that there’s some small effect and there’s no risk associated with wearing masks,” says Aiello, who co-wrote a 2010 review article evaluating studies on the subject. In one of Aiello’s studies, in which healthy college students wore masks on campus during flu season, researchers didn’t see much of a reduction in flu-like illness, except when masked students also sanitized their hands regularly.

In another trial published in 2009, an Australian team of researchers looked at families of children who had influenza-like illnesses. Family members who diligently wore masks when they were caring for the sick child were more protected against getting sick, they concluded.

“If you look at [the research] together, you don’t see these really strong effects,” Aiello says, adding that while the effects may be greater in a real-life pandemic, there’s no way to know. However, “we are at a time now where it seems pretty clear that there are no major risks to wearing masks and they may provide a benefit. I think for those reasons, it seems like it would be prudent to recommend some kind of face covering at this point to protect individuals.”

What about homemade masks?

The CDC currently recommends that, when medical-grade face masks are unavailable, health care personnel use homemade masks—their examples include bandanas and scarves. “However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect [health care personnel] is unknown,” the guidance reads. “Caution should be exercised when considering this option.”

The evidence supporting homemade masks for both health care workers and the general public is scant. “There’s not a large body of research on this topic,” says Aiello. One of the only studies testing whether or not homemade masks are effective was published in 2013. Researchers tested household materials—including cotton T-shirts, scarves, tea towels, pillowcases and vacuum cleaner bags—to see how good they were at blocking bacterial and viral aerosols, and how realistically the material could be used as a mask.

The researchers found that the most suitable materials were pillowcases and 100% cotton T-shirts, though the shirt’s stretchy composition made the mask fit better. Volunteers made their own T-shirt masks (here’s how) and then coughed wearing their homemade mask, a surgical mask and no mask. T-shirt masks were about a third as effective as surgical masks at filtering small infectious particles. “We basically found that it was okay at blocking,” says Anna Davies, a research coordinator at the University of Cambridge and one of the authors of the study. “It’s better than nothing.” To some extent, the homemade mask acted as a barrier to keep droplets in.

Now, about seven people a day email Davies to ask if their idea for a homemade mask would work. It’s impossible to know. “There’s so much inherent variability in a homemade mask,” Davies says. We’d have a much clearer idea, she adds, “if somebody could do some slightly better quality research that said this is a good pattern, this is the right sort of fabric to use, this is how long you should wear one for, how you should decontaminate it.” The list of unknowns is long.

In addition, there is some evidence that homemade masks can backfire. “We’ve tested the efficacy of cloth masks and found they can actually increase the risk of infection,” says Raina MacIntyre, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney (who also co-authored the Australian mask study). She speculates that people in the study didn’t clean their masks as often as they said. “We know they get very damp and moist,” she says. “Moisture will breed pathogens, and if people don’t wash it well enough or regularly, that could increase the risk of infection.” If people decide to make their own, MacIntyre suspects that a mask with more than one layer of fabric will be more effective, as will fabric that repels water.

“It’s still unclear,” Aiello says. “But to the extent that any material provides some protection against the droplet spread, then in theory, you should find having that barrier there could prevent some spread in some scenarios.”

The bottom line

Wearing a mask probably won’t hurt—as long as you wear it properly, clean it often, wash your hands, continue to not touch your face and physically distance yourself from other people. There’s just not a strong body of evidence that wearing one, especially one you make yourself, will protect you from getting sick. “If you want to wear a mask, go for it,” Bogoch says. “But just be mindful of what the possible benefits are and what the possible limitations are. And be realistic.”

Even with new federal guidance, the issue is far from settled. Much more research is needed. “Just because it’s a policy,” Bogoch says, “it doesn’t necessarily suggest that these scientific questions are truly answered.”

By Mandy Oaklander Updated: April 3, 2020 7:29 PM EDT | Originally published: April 3, 2020 3:45 PM EDT

Source: Should Healthy People Wear Masks to Prevent Coronavirus? The Answer May Be Changing

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Calling All People Who Sew And Make: You Can Help Make Masks For 2020 Healthcare Worker PPE Shortage

Rally is probably not the right word. A significant movement, perhaps even a revolution of epic noble intentions, is underway in hackerspaces, makerspaces, and sewing groups to come together and solve a problem to save lives at risk with the Coronavirus.

You can help. Today, right now. Are you sitting in your apartment or house in some sort of state-wide lockdown? You can do something to help others. People of all ages and walks of life are diving in to make a difference. Check out some of these amazing initiatives, both small and large:

Joost De Cock (Old Dutch for “The Cook”) started the FreeSewing Open Source Project from his home in the Netherlands to provide free sewing patterns. Recently, his wife who is a surgeon started seeing potential shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE). Joost knew what to do, so he posted it to FreeSewing in late February. People thought he was being silly as a handmade mask would never be used by professionals. (I love the brand for FreeSewing.org, by the way.)

But he was onto something when he posted: Calling all makers: Here’s a 1-page PDF facemask pattern; Now go make some and help beat this thing. I took inspiration from Joost’s call for help in the writing of my headline. Shoutout also to Katelyn Bowden who shared Joost’s post. It is her workshop photo above and she has been cranking out the DIY masks. She calls herself a “reluctant hacker” and also runs a nonprofit to help image abuse victims. She pointed me to a bunch of different resources.

If you think that a handmade mask cannot be used, think again. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a place for them — in times of crisis, like the one we are in right now. On the CDC page: Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks, they explain that as a last resort, a homemade mask is acceptable. Frankly, we are at that stage right now. Here’s how they explain it in the Crisis Strategy section, When No Facemasks Are Available, Options Include:

“Healthcare personnel (HCP) use of homemade masks:

In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.

It is possible that the government and manufacturers will ramp up in a wartime-like effort, but the reinforcement is more likely to come from the people. Millions of masks are needed. People are starting to make them and it is going to be a big deal.

Clearly, there is a shortage of the manufactured N95 respirator. You know this. Healthcare workers know this. If you have been hoarding them, let me cut to the chase — there are people and organizations who need your extras and you can do the right thing and donate them. Get in touch with Holly Figueroa O’Reilly on Twitter — she is organizing the distribution of masks. Karen Booth is another person listing out different projects as she starts making masks herself. Follow the hashtags #millionmaskchallenge and #millionmaskmayday and scroll through and you will find programs and projects around the USA and world.

People like Joost, Katelyn, Holly, and Karen are bringing enormous good into the world. When I asked Joost why he was doing this FreeSewing project, he pointed me to his Pledge page where he explains that all the funds that come into the project are donated to Doctors Without Borders. All of it. Why? He pointed me to that page again: “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the phrase ‘noblesse oblige’ but it essentially means that privilege entails responsibility.” Then said, “I mean every word of it.”

Makers, hackers, craftspeople are awesome. Coronavirus does not stand a chance. Tweet, tweet.


Additional Resources for Open Source or Volunteer COVID-19 Projects:

One of my favorite how-to sites is Instructables. The DIY Cloth Face Mask has almost 100,000 views. It is a step-by-step instruction for those who need it. Kudos to ashevillejm.

In 2006, CDC released a Simple Respiratory Mask design using heavyweight t-shirts in its Emerging Infectious Diseases journal. More of an academic post, but some ideas in it.

A Facebook group was formed last week: Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies. It is worth a visit — in just a few short days there are 20,000-plus members and volunteers.

If you are looking for some research and street-level testing of various materials for DIY mask-making, this post from Smart Air Filters is exceptional: What Are The Best Materials for Making DIY Masks? It also includes a few great links at the end of it.

Forbes’ editor Amy Feldman just expanded on the developing story of a team in Italy that is 3D printing respirator parts. Read it here: Meet The Italian Engineers 3D-Printing Respirator Parts For Free To Help Keep Coronavirus Patients Alive.

Bloomberg confirms that the workers and communities around them are rising up to meet this challenge: Hospital Workers Make Masks From Office Supplies Amid U.S. Shortage.

If you have a 3D Printer and have been trying out different N95-type designs, then you will want to read this one from 3D Printing Media Network by Davide Sher: Copper3D organizing global campaign to 3D print antimicrobial masks on a global scale. After you read it, you will probably want to order some PLA filament from the folks at Copper3D who are making their patent-pending idea and design open source to help fight COVID-19.

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I’m a Tech and Productivity guy. Do you have #lifehacks, #DIYtips, #HowTO ideas? Click the little “House” icon below to get to my website where you can submit ideas (via a Google spreadsheet). I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading and connecting. Sign up for my Tech Tips email. You can find me at the LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter link buttons, too. I still also cover a bit of my old beat on 3D printing, hardware, software, and mobile apps, as well.

Source: Calling All People Who Sew And Make: You Can Help Make Masks For 2020 Healthcare Worker PPE Shortage

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This is a translation of the video I made for an initiative by Make in Belgium. Different rules and requirements may exist in your area, so please check with your local health providers before making and donating masks. Download the (Dutch) pattern on http://maakjemondmasker.be A big hurrah for Make in Belgium for organizing this wonderful initiative. And thank you to Henk Rijckaert for involving me in this. Check out his YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/henkrijc… INSTAGRAM: http://www.instagram.com/craftswithellen PATREON: http://www.patreon.com/craftswithellen ————————— DISCLAIMER Even though my videos are set up as tutorials, I’m not professionally trained in any of these crafts. The tools that I use can be dangerous. Don’t try a craft if you are unfamiliar with the tools and the necessary safety precautions. Be safe!

 

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