California deal for protective masks wins federal approval

California Connection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Millions of protective masks will soon be on their way to California after the manufacturer paid by the state to make them finally won U.S. federal certification, the governor’s office announced Monday. It came more than a month after the masks had originally been set to start arriving.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration signed a nearly $1 billion contract with BYD, a Chinese company with California offices, in April for hundreds of millions of protective masks for health care workers and others amid the coronavirus. The deal included both tight-fitting N95 masks ideal for health care workers and looser-fitting surgical masks. The surgical masks started arriving last month, but the critical N95 masks were twice delayed as BYD failed to win certification from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Now that the company has approval, the state expects to receive the first shipment in “the coming days,” according to a press release from Newsom’s office. The state will receive a total of 150 million N95 masks.

That’s half of what the state originally planned to receive when it took the unusual step of paying nearly $500 million up front. BYD refunded California half of that in May when it failed to meet its first certification deadline. Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services, said the state could decide to pay that money back to BYD for more masks.

The masks “are game-changing and play a crucial role in our state’s public safety and reopening strategy,” Newsom said in a statement.

The contract faced a series of delays since Newsom first announced it in April on a nightly cable news show before the deal was finalized. Lawmakers immediately voiced skepticism when the administration didn’t show them the contract.

Newsom’s administration eventually released it. The contract revealed the state was paying $3.30 per N95 mask, which officials said was a good deal at a time when many states were paying double that for masks.

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