It wasn’t that long ago that Connecticut couldn’t get masks at all costs.
Now he can’t get rid of 202,500 reusable sheet masks, the leftovers of a giveaway of 2 million federally purchased face coverings from underwear maker Hanes.
Connecticut used about 1.8 million, but the rest rest in 450 cases on nine pallets in a warehouse in New Britain. They contain 40,500 packs of five masks made by Hanesbrands Inc., a company briefly bullish on a line of PPE products.
The boom has burst, Hanes is no longer in the PPE business, and Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration says Hanes masks are unnecessary by the state and unwanted by anyone.
Surplus masks were recently listed for sale by the Department of Correction on publicsurplus.com, an auction site used by state and city governments. The announcement did not generate any serious offers from potential buyers, just questions and criticism from a Republican state senator.
The administration considers the lack of interest proves its crux: there is a real surplus in masks, a likely consequence of massive federal spending that helped turn last year’s shortage into this year’s glut.
Senator Heather Somers, R-Groton, said she couldn’t believe the masks were unwanted.
“Truly?” she said. “I make five phone calls in under 20 minutes, and I have towns and schools and Planned Parenthood and anyone else who would be willing to take them.”
Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said Somers was welcome to direct the takers to the administration. It has already tried a more standard route, making their availability known through its emergency communication channels. (Masks are not currently listed on the auction site.)
âUsing our unified command structure, we contacted everyone – we asked municipalities, fire departments, police departments,â Reiss said. “And the consensus was that everyone had masks, and they didn’t want them.”
The masks arrived in Connecticut through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, at no cost to the state, Reiss said.
Connecticut offered to return the surplus to FEMA.
âFEMA said, ‘No, we don’t want the masks to be collected,’â Reiss said.
FEMA provided them, but they had been purchased in April 2020 by the US Department of Health and Human Services. It committed $ 645 million in an emergency program to secure and distribute personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Hanesbrands Inc. won the largest contract, a $ 321.5 million order completed in October 2020. In the second quarter Announcing results in July 2020, the company’s longtime chief executive Gerald W. Evans told stock analysts the new line was already lucrative.
âOur newly formed PPE business has generated over $ 750 million in revenue,â said Evans, making his final pre-retirement income call. “It was well ahead of our initial expectations as we benefited from additional government contracts for reusable masks and gowns, and we were able to meet demand from a number of companies.”
Evans told analysts the company has also launched a retail line of “PPE face masks.”
âWe expect to generate over $ 150 million in additional PPE revenue in the second half of the year,â he said. âLooking ahead, we continue to believe that this line of consumer products represents a significant and continuing business opportunity. “
This is not the case.
Sales stagnated and then fell. Supply increased and demand fell as vaccinations became widely available and many states abandoned mask warrants. Connecticut still requires masks in schools, while leaving it up to local authorities whether to require them indoors, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for unvaccinated and, in some circumstances, vaccinated.
When Evans’ successor Steve Bratspies killed off the Hanes mask line in February 2021, Wall Street cheered with an almost 25% rise in its share price.
âIt is encouraging to see COVID vaccines being rolled out around the world. As a result, this rollout, along with slowing retail orders and a flood of competitive offerings, has significantly reduced our future sales opportunities, âBratpies said on an earnings call. âTherefore, we do not see PPE as an opportunity for future growth for the company. “
The commercial market may have fallen, but Somers said its calls found willing takers for the excess masks.
âThe Griswold City Elderly Center said it could still use masks. Griswold’s school system said he could still use masks. I spoke to the town of Groton, they are distributing masks, âSomers said.
Somers acknowledged that none of his potential recipients were looking to pick up enough masks to reduce the excess. Connecticut intended to rid its warehouse of the surplus, an attitude the people of Hanes could understand.
In June, Hanesbrand did his own cleaning. The Winston Salem company in North Carolina donated the remaining 2.6 million masks to a charity in Canada, Brands for Canada. The gift arrived on 400 pallets, packed in eight semi-trailers.