Tracking the Coronavirus — Part Three: GO Zooms In On Face Masks & Sanitizer Supply

In a multi-part series, Orbital Insight brings you on-the-ground truth on how businesses, industries, and markets across the world are impacted by the coronavirus contagion.

Amid their watch on oil storage tanks, traffic at malls and vessels at ports, satellites in orbit and IoT data have also begun focusing on the supply chain of two of the hottest commodities on earth now: face masks and hand sanitizers.

A shortage of health masks and hand sterilizing solutions in the United States amid the spread of the novel coronavirus is raising anxiety for Americans trying to keep themselves safe, pressuring mask manufacturers like 3M as well as GOJO, the maker of the Purell brand of cleansers.

As stores and online inventories run out of critical supplies required by both health workers and regular people, Orbital Insight’s geospatial platform GO zooms in on the supply chains closely-watched by investors, corporations, and governments requiring more data.

Orbital Insight 3M Production

Foot-traffic measured by GO via anonymized device pings show an activity spike as early as the last week in January at 3M’s Personal Safety Division Plant in Valley, Nebraska, just as the COVID-19 was making its presence in the United States.

Granular study of the data shows activity at the PSD Plant hitting 52-week highs as production ramped up. 3M’s headquarters at St.Paul, Minnesota, also registered higher activity levels in the final week of January, although these have plateaued since.

A shortage of the specialized N95 respiratory mask has prompted officials of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to loosen their recommendations on the face protection that front line health-care workers typically use.

“The supply chain of respirators cannot meet demand,” CDC officials concluded, saying looser fitting surgical face masks were now “an acceptable alternative.”

While the CDC may have lowered its bar for masks, manufacturers of almost all face-shields — and a variety of other health products — are stretched to the brim as supplies have sold out from fear associated with the growing number of U.S. cases and deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Industrial giant 3M, which makes both the N95 and looser-fitting masks, is among those running at 24/7 optimum production, keeping even its facility in China open despite the threat of operating in the country most susceptible to the pandemic. 3M CEO Mike Roman said in late January it was increasing production in Asia and Europe as well.

In GOJO’s case, its Cuyahoga Falls plant in Ohio that manufactures Purell hand-sanitizers showed a distinctive jump in foot-traffic from late February as the CDC stepped up public reminders for regular hand-washing to minimize the risk of infection. The Orbital data particularly highlights an increase in weekend shifts at the plant, indicating higher production activity for Purell sanitizers, which command 24% of the U.S. market. Our ability to pick up such work patterns gives clients crucial insights into supply chains when the need for ground-truth is most pressing.

Orbital Insight Purell Production

Aside from masks and sanitizers, manufacturers across the pharmaceuticals space that produce painkillers to vaccines are having a hive of activity amid heightened response from both government and public to the COVID-19.

In the image below, GO shows foot-traffic at McNeil Healthcare, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico that manufactures Tylenol.

Orbital Insight Object Detection

Satellite object detection
Orbital Insight quantifies car and truck traffic from Airbus satellite imagery, showing a surge in employee car counts.

A boost in auto traffic at McNeil’s parking lot was detected on Feb 21 by GO’s satellite imagery analytics that automatically detected and quantified worker vehicles at the lot.

Orbital Insight is actively working with its clients to meet the surge in demand for data around the economic impact of the coronavirus.

GO’s geolocation data tracks workforce trends by day of the week, allowing us to see less pronounced day-of-week variance at certain biotech, healthcare, and pharmaceutical manufacturers during the latter weeks into the contagion.

We will be providing insights on our blog for best practices of using GO to track fuel demand indicators, supply chain activity, tourism trends as well as critical data that can be used by public health officials that can help slow the spread of the virus.

Our assertion is that GO enables analysts and government officials to combine geospatial data with traditional sources of intelligence to obtain a comprehensive, multi-perspective view of the subject at hand.

Stay tuned for more examples demonstrating how geospatial analytics can quantify the shutdowns and recovery of assets such as auto plants, airports, ports, and retail centers.