Courthouses Answer Call From Hospitals Lacking Masks in Virus War

(CN) — Distributed at the height of a national anthrax scare, a supply of 1,200 N95 respirator masks have been unearthed from courthouse supply closets across the state of Florida and sent to the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced the discovery Wednesday, saying the stockpile in the Northern District of Florida was donated immediately to five local hospitals.

A medical worker wearing a single protective glove and a face mask walks past a line of workers and visitors waiting on March 23 to be tested for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the main entrance to the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“As public servants, we all independently recognized that this was the right thing to do, even though our donation was small when compared to the overall number of masks needed by our health care professionals,” Jessica Lyublanovits, clerk of court for the Northern District of Florida, said in a statement.

For weeks, hospital staff across the country have been forced to improvise personal protective equipment as supplies ran short. Doctors and nurses have posted photos wearing trash bags and ski goggles, bandanas, and even Halloween costumes to protect themselves from a new strain of coronavirus that spreads with a cough, sneeze or essentially any contact with respiratory droplets.

Their pleas have spurred a range of sectors, federal courts included, to search their stores for medical supplies that are lifelines to health care workers whose own safety can be jeopardized as the virus overruns hospitals. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump predicted that 100,000 to 240,000 American will die from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Lyublanovits, the Northern District clerk, said in a statement that the courts were eager to serve medical professionals in desperate need of supplies. 

“Nothing reinforced how important our donation was than having the lab director for one of the hospitals break down in tears as the masks were delivered,” Lyublanovits said.

James Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, has urged all federal courts and probation offices to provide hospitals with any safety supplies not required to keep staff and officers safe. 

In response to the N95 discovery in northern Florida, other courts swung open closet doors to search for donations. The Middle District of Florida located 300 masks and more than 2,000 pairs of protective gloves to give away, while the District of Massachusetts donated gloves originally purchased to wear when wiping down possibly contaminated surfaces.

Now the Covid-19 global hotspot, the U.S. faces 189,753 confirmed cases and 4,102 deaths as of Wednesday morning, according to John Hopkins University. 

Private industry has transitioned to manufacturing protective equipment — mirroring a wartime, all-hands-on deck effort to combat Covid-19. 

Minnesota-based MyPillow is sewing cotton surgical masks, while Honeywell International Inc. plans to open a new facility in Arizona to put 500 employees to work manufacturing the more crucial N95 masks. A Honeywell facility in Rhode Island will jointly rev up manufacturing as the government contracted company aims to supply 20 million N95 masks to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Invoking the Defense Production Act, Trump last week directed General Motors to begin manufacturing ventilators but has yet to issue a similar order to companies that could redirect their factory floors to produce masks. 

The N95 masks, unlike cotton surgical masks that do not fit tightly to the face, are named after their ability to protect from the majority of air particles. The high-demand masks are able to filter out particles 0.3 microns wide 95% of the time, compared with surgical masks that can reduce exposure but filter out closer to 60% of particles. 

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