Target has apologised for selling N95 masks in some of its Seattle stores after a photo of the masks went viral on social media. Personal protective equipment like masks are in short supply for doctors and nurses across the country as the covid-19 pandemic worsens, and Target has now has pledged to donate its supply of N95 masks to the medical community nationwide.
“On Saturday, in select stores in the Seattle area, shipments of N95 masks were made available for purchase in error. We are worked quickly to remove these masks from our stores and donate them to the Washington State Department of Health for distribution to local hospitals,” a spokesperson at Target told Gizmodo via email on Sunday.
The Seattle area is one of the three worst-hit spots in the country right now, with at least 1,996 confirmed cases and 95 deaths. At least 35 people from a single nursing home in Kirkland, Washington have died so far. Nationwide, at least 35,224 people have tested positive for covid-19 and there have been 471 deaths, with those numbers expected to increase sharply in the coming week.
Health workers in Washington state have been so desperate for personal protective equipment, often shortened as PPE, that they’ve resorted to making their own using supplies purchased from craft supply stores.
Target has not only pledged to donate masks from the Seattle area, but has also promised that it’s going through its entire inventory of masks to make sure that they’re getting to hospitals across the country.
“We are also thoroughly reviewing our full inventory for any additional masks, which will be donated given the critical need across the medical community,” Target told Gizmodo in a statement. “Target’s commitment to communities is unwavering and we apologise for our error.”
— Ann Dornfeld (@anndornfeld) March 21, 2020
Washington Governor Jay Inslee was alerted to the masks being sold at Target on Saturday, again through Twitter, explaining that his staff stepped in to get them to health care workers who need them.
N95 masks, which filter out 95 per cent of particulate matter, are not a foolproof way of protecting yourself against the new coronavirus, but health experts in places like Hong Kong credit masks with helping slow the spread of the virus if the entire population wears them. Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn’t have enough masks for its entire population, so it’s more vital than ever to make sure health care workers on the front lines can get masks.
“If you look at the experience in Hong Kong or Taiwan or in Macau, one of the common things we have done is universal masking,” one Hong Kong health worker told Germany’s DW News over the weekend. “Despite the close proximity of Hong Kong and Taiwan with mainland China, we have been having very small number of cases so far.”
The idea isn’t that wearing a mask necessarily protects you from contracting the virus. Instead, when everyone wears masks, it reduces the likelihood that an otherwise asymptomatic person might infect others. Roughly 80 per cent of people who contract the new coronavirus feel just fine, which makes it difficult to know who “healthy” and who’s merely a carrier of the disease.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also announced that the tech giant was donating 720,000 masks that it had stockpiled last year during the wildfire crisis in California, a stark reminder that fire season is just around the corner.
“Health workers urgently need more protective gear,” Zuck wrote in a Facebook post yesterday. “To help, Facebook donated our emergency reserve of 720,000 masks that we had bought in case the wildfires continued. We’re also working on sourcing millions of more to donate. I hope you’re all staying healthy and safe!
It’s not clear if Facebook’s masks will be sent to federal government agencies like FEMA or if they’ll be sent directly to the regions with the most need, like New York City, which has roughly a third of the country’s known cases. Roughly one person an hour is currently dying in New York from covid-19, according to Mayor Bill De Blasio, who warned last night that “the worst is yet to come.”
Many companies are ramping up production of masks, including Honeywell, which told Gizmodo in a statement that it’s expanding production in Smithfield, Rhode Island, which the company says will create 500 new jobs.
“Our Rhode Island facility already produces industry-leading safety gear and soon will play a critical role in supplying the Strategic National Stockpile with N95 masks,” Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell chairman and CEO, told Gizmodo in a statement.
Manufacturing company 3M also announced on Sunday that N95 respirator masks are making their way from a plant in South Dakota to the hardest hit regions like Washington and New York right now.
“As I write this, more than 500,000 respirators are on the way from our South Dakota plant to two of the more critically impacted areas, New York and Seattle, with arrivals expected starting tomorrow,” 3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman wrote on the company’s website Sunday night. “We are also ready to expedite additional shipments across the country.”
“While 3M is currently operating at maximum production, we have accelerated investments to expand our global capacity even more. We anticipate being able to nearly double our capacity again, to almost 2 billion respirators globally, within the next 12 months.”