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Layoffs at Rhode Island factory as demand for N95 masks ebbs

May 26, 2021 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island factory once praised by former President Donald Trump for ramping up production of N95 face masks in the early days of the pandemic is laying off nearly 500 workers as the pandemic eases and demand for the face coverings wanes.

A spokesperson for Honeywell International told WPRI-TV on Wednesday that about 470 jobs at the Smithfield facility are being cut.

Employees are being urged to apply for other jobs at the company and some eligible workers will receive severance, he said.

“We are now seeing a dramatic reduction in demand for N95s in the U.S. as many states are ending or scaling back mask mandates and vaccinations are being widely distributed,” Eric Krantz said in a statement. “For these reasons, Honeywell is adjusting its N95 operations and ceasing manual production of N95s at our facility in Smithfield.”

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The company is shifting production of N95s to “more efficient, automated production lines” that were created during the pandemic, he said.

The disposable respirators are critical safety equipment for health care workers and others.

“We appreciate the hard work and dedication these employees displayed in helping to protect American frontline workers battling the pandemic,” Krantz said.

The Smithfield facility also produces eye protection products, including safety glasses, goggles and face shields.

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HEALTH DEPARTMENT DATA

The Rhode Island Department of Health on Wednesday announced nearly 80 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, one additional virus-related death and a daily positivity rate of 1%.

The number of people in the state’s hospitals was up slightly to 70, according to the latest data.

Of the new cases, 65 were recorded on Tuesday and 13 were added to previous dates.

The number of fatalities is now 2,708.

Although vaccination rates are slowing down, nearly 541,000 people have been fully vaccinated in the state.