New York, NY – SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West [UHW] is reporting that it has located 39 million N95 face masks and is working to distribute them both in California and New York.
The $5 face masks — so vital to medical personal treating ill patients with the novel coronavirus — were reportedly located over a 48-hour period which saw the union “painstakingly calling leads and potential suppliers.”
“SEIU-UHW members and healthcare workers all over California are desperate for more protection, so we are seeking out supplies wherever we can get them,” union president Dave Regan said in a statement on Thursday, March 26. “We are continuing to turn over every rock to see if we can find more personal protective equipment to make sure that healthcare workers, who are heroically putting their own health on the line to care for patients, can do their jobs as safely as possible.”
In addition to locating a distributor with 39 million National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved masks, SEIU-UHW says it has also found another supplier with the ability to produce 20 million masks a week. The union further announced that it has also found a supplier who can deliver millions of face shields.
City and state officials from coast-to-coast have spent weeks clamoring for the distribution of more Personal Protection Equipment for hospital workers and other frontline workers regularly interacting with the public.
Shocking news that 39 million N95 face masks, along with other vital pieces of PPE has somehow been located comes on the same day that the union representing New York City mass transit workers called on government to immediately provide masks to frontline workers following the tragic death of conductor Peter Petrassi from COVID-19.
“Conductor Petrassi’s passing is a line-of-duty death just as if he had been killed on the job in any number of ways that have struck down transit workers in years past,” TWU Local 100 Tony Utano said in a statement. “Transit workers are saddened. The MTA must NOW provide masks to front-line transit workers. Otherwise, the moment is rapidly approaching where bus and subway workers will do what is necessary to protect themselves and their families. Dedication and duty does not mean using transit workers as cannon fodder.”
According to SEIU-UHW, the Greater New work Hospital Association is among a number of California counties and healthcare plans including Kaiser Permanent, that is purchasing the newly-discovered masks.
“We want the masks to be distributed as widely as possible,” Regan added. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough to go beyond California and New York, and so far hospitals in Arizona have not responded to an offer of 2 million masks, but as we locate more masks we want to expand the circulation as much as possible.”
Grocery store clerks and warehouse workers nationwide have also joined with healthcare providers and transit workers in demanding more PPE during the coronavirus outbreak.
Regan said the union is pleased with the results of their efforts to find the N95 masks and face shields — but called it a “stopgap measure” in light of the 3.5 billion masks that could be needed during the pandemic.
“We urgently need the federal government to step in and drive a coordinated national response to the PPE shortage,” Regan said.
Delivery of the N95 face masks is expected to begin over the next week, with shipments of million of face shields to follow.