Honeywell manufactured N95 masks until hundreds were laid off, Doug Ducey contract money ran out

Nearly two years ago, a global pandemic swept across the globe, and masks for protection were in short supply, so manufacturers rushed to unscrew masks made in America.

Now that mutations of COVID-19 are spreading the virus even among those who were vaccinated, there is some pressure to do the same.

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

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are on the rise amplified by the “extraordinarily contagious” Omnicron variant in Arizona, according to the state Department of Health.

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 understatement, since there are so many COVID-19 tests at home. Days into 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 last six months in Arizona – including dozens every day in December 2020.

“Last year we saw a significant reduction in demand for N95s in the United States,” said Scott Sayre’s spokesman for Honeywell. “For this reason, Honeywell adjusted its N95 operations and reduced manual production at our Chandler, AZ plant to support our customers’ requirements and adapt our operations to market demand.”

Dismissed employees were encouraged to apply for other jobs in the company, Sayres said.

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

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

The move was praised as a way of manufacturing in America, while overseas supply chains were crippled at the time. It seemed like a lasting trend. But the experiment failed only a year later.

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

Honeywell entered into contracts to supply the strategic national warehouse with personal protective equipment, such as masks for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The company is preparing to produce more than 20 million N95 masks each month between Arizona and Rhode Island locations.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey purchased 6 million masks in a 12-month contract that began in April 2020. He earmarked the masks for the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“I’m grateful to Honeywell for stepping up and collaborating with Arizona to help bring these masks to the forefront of our doctors, nurses and EMTs,” Ducey said in a statement at the time.

Ducey’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Elected officials promised hundreds of jobs to Arizona residents during the economic meltdown in late March 2020.

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

That was when many states dropped mask mandates, and COVID-19 vaccines caused some residents to completely stop wearing masks. Honeywell said there was a “dramatic reduction in demand for N95s” at the time.

Since then, two variants of COVID-19 – here you look at you Delta and Omnicorn – have forced many to change course and reverse previous decisions.

Despite that, Honeywell had continued its largely automated mesh factory operations at Chandler after winding down its Phoenix line expansion. That was until mid-November, when the company laid off 81 workers at Chandler. Honeywell had signed a long-term lease in western Chandler for a 150,000-square-foot facility.

It was not immediately clear how many people the company has in Arizona working on making N95 masks now, or when its lease could be in Chandler.

Amid the transmission of whiplash and new cases of COVID-19 into the new year, universities like Arizona State University now require higher quality masks while indoors such as N95s instead of surgical masks or fabric masks.

Fake masks are spreading on the internet for sale, while people are struggling to find higher quality masks for their children who are now back in school and for the workplace because the economy has forced workers back to work face to face.

For those who want to cut through the fake mask noise, there is an N95 clearinghouse with verified products.

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