Photo: Face masks are in urgent need worldwide. (Credit: Freepik)
Medical face masks are worth their weight in gold during the coronavirus pandemic.
With more than 21,000 cases of the coronavirus in the US as of Saturday with expectations that the number will skyrocket over the next weeks, the need for face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, gloves and face shields is critical of the care of patients and safeguarding the health of doctors and nurses.
But currently, there is an acute shortage of masks and other materials. Medical professionals have sounded the alarm since the virus first arrived in the US in February the supply would soon be wanting as states and local governments are scrambling – and at times fighting against the other – to obtain any number of masks.
So it came as somewhat of a shock when out of the blue, a local civic organization is providing Belmont and nearby medical facilities with boxes of masks for the asking.
On Thursday, March 19, Xinxin Guo, secretary for the Belmont Chinese American Association, contacted town officials to say a member of the association was offering to donate 100,000 face masks to those most in need of this resource.
“[They] kindly offer the help and resources of their group to our community as we all prepare to contend with COVID-19,” said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s director of health who the BCAA approached as they were looking for advice on who to donate the face masks.
Based on the town’s suggestion, the BCAA donated portions of the face masks to Belmont’s First Responders with the majority going to nearby healthcare facilities including Mt. Auburn Hospital and Belmont Manor, a 135-bed skilled nursing facility in Waverley Square. In addition Cambridge Health Alliance hospitals, Mass General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center will also benefit from the supply of masks.
The donation is the most notable act by the BCAA known for its Chinese New Year’s celebration held at the Chenery Middle School.
“The BCAA is open to everyone in the Chinese American community in Belmont. There is no required formal registration or enrollment process. The BCAA is a volunteer-based, non-profit, non-political organization, with a leadership team of 30 or so key volunteers,” said Guo.
According to Guo, the Chenery parent, identified as Ms. He is a partner in a publicly listed Chinese company. One category in the firm’s product line is medical personal protective equipment which includes a line of masks.
China is the largest supplier of masks in the world, manufacturing half, approximately seven billion annually. In an article in the New York Times dated March 13, Chinese companies cranked up the production of masks by 12-times since the coronavirus was identified, with nearly all used internally.
But within the past two weeks, as new COVID-19 cases in China have fallen to manageable numbers, there has been a surge in the US. As manufacturing capacity keeps picking up in Asia, there is now an abundant supply “and they do want to ship them out to help other countries who is currently undergo the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Guo.
“When the COVID-19 breakout in Boston got reported in the news in early March, [Ms. He] shared her concern of the shortage of masks in the US in an online group of CMS parents, and eventually got introduced to the BCAA,” he said. “We then started working out the logistics of shipping the masks from China to the US.
Approximately 30,000 face masks were donated on March 7 with BCAA responsible for arranging the masks shipment from China. To ensure quick delivery, the items were made in two shipments, the first batch of 10,000 and second batch of 20,000.
In addition to the masks, BCAA is working on supplying medical N95 respirators for surronding hospitals.
“Many people have contributed their time and efforts to make this happen – the first shipment was delivered [Thursday]. It was indeed very fortunate for us to have these masks at this critical time,” said Guo.