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In response to mounting concern that frontline medical workers don’t have the protection needed to treat people who are infected with the COVID-19 virus, Direct Relief delivered 11 pallets of N95 face masks to Cottage Health this morning. Translated that’s 194,000 masks.
Direct Relief’s Tony Morain explained that Santa Barbara County received a shipment of 1 million masks last Saturday. This is the county’s portion of the 20 million masks secured by the State of California in response to the crisis of supplies. Beyond that, Morain stated, Direct Relief is expecting a planeload of additional masks delivered from China this coming Saturday. That delivery, would involve 80,000 new masks. Shortly thereafter, Morain said, Direct Relief is expecting an additional delivery of 50,000 masks, and sometime after that, a million. Morain added that major manufacturing companies like Gap and Haynes — famous for T-shirts and underwear — have jumped into the mask-making business with a vengeance.
Direct Relief has been involved in the worldwide effort to contain and mitigate the virus since it hit China late last year, Morain noted. It distributed 800,000 masks in China, but since the United States has emerged as the epicenter of COVID-19 infection, the international disaster relief nonprofit has shifted its focus to the United States. “We’re getting calls from every single state, from major hospitals and small clinics, from doctors, from doctor’s spouses, from nurses, and from mothers of nurses,” he said. “This is unlike anything we’ve dealt with before.” Morain said Direct Relief had 500,000 masks in inventory at one point, but now it’s dwindled to 10,000.
Direct Relief does not have an inventory of ventilators or respirators, but it does have a stockpile of oxygen concentrators manufactured by Inogen, a company based in Goleta. Inogen makes small cannisters into which compressed oxygen can be stored and dispensed. They cannot be used in place of respirators, Morain stressed, but they can free up desperately needed hospital beds by giving patients recovering from serious respiratory challenges assistance for when they go home. Without such devices, such patients could not be released, and their beds would not be freed up for new patients.
Morain said Direct Relief started with an inventory of 2,000 concentrators, but after shipping 500 to New York and Washington State, it is down to about 1,500.
Correction: It was 1 million face masks, not 200,000, that were received last Saturday, March 28, from the state. As well, though Direct Relief stores masks for Santa Barbara County, this delivery did not include them.