A union repping 2 million health care workers has made quite a find: 39 million N95 masks, which it will distribute to hospitals and state and local governments. "We are continuing to turn over every rock to see if we can find more personal protective equipment to make sure that health care workers, who are heroically putting their own health on the line to care for patients, can do their jobs as safely as possible," says Dave Regan, president of the Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West, per NBC San Francisco. The SEIU-UHW says in a statement that it started trying to hunt down masks after "pleas from front-line health care workers that they [needed] more protection and [felt] unsafe on the job," per BuzzFeed. Union rep Steve Trossman says it's unclear why the unnamed firm, which has warehouses in Georgia and Pennsylvania, had so many masks lying around.
"We just rolled up our sleeves and tried anybody who we thought might have a supply," he says. "It really was old-fashioned elbow grease." The masks will be directly available from the supplier to the recipients for $5 each; the union won't make any money off of them. Still, despite this big development, Regan says up to 3.5 billion masks might be needed overall for the pandemic and that more action needs to be taken, especially by DC. "We urgently need the federal government to step in and drive a coordinated national response to the PPE (personal protective equipment) shortage," he says, per NBC. Meanwhile, sources tell the Washington Post that almost 1.5 million N95 masks are languishing in a US government warehouse in Indianapolis because their expiration date has come and gone—despite the CDC giving the OK for them under certain guidelines. More on that here. (Read more coronavirus stories.)