As coronavirus cases continue to soar in and around New York, doctors, nurses and others on the front lines say their supplies of medical-grade N95 and surgical masks are rapidly dwindling, with the worst of the epidemic yet to come.
Hospitals in New York and other coronavirus hot spots “are running in short supply of N95 masks,” said Richard E. Peltier, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hospitals have been conserving masks or reusing them to make them last.
“So we’re playing a game of roulette,” Mr. Peltier said.
N95 masks are in acute demand among medical providers because they provide a tight fit and help prevent a person from inhaling small, airborne infectious particles. Last week, some N95 masks that are primarily intended for use in industrial settings, such as construction, were temporarily approved for medical use by the F.D.A. Surgical masks fit more loosely, but prevent the wearer from spreading droplets when coughing or sneezing.
Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others are considering whether to recommend that people cover their faces in public, there is growing concern that people will start using medical masks when a scarf, kerchief or bandanna would be sufficient.
Instead of hanging on to N95 and surgical masks, experts say, people should make their own and donate any medical masks for use in the health care system.
For people in the New York area who happen to have respirator-type N95 masks or other medical-grade surgical masks at home or in storage and want to help medical workers in the region, there are several ways to donate them. Policies vary on whether opened or expired boxes of masks will be accepted. Donors should check with the individual groups first about what is accepted.
Contact New York’s Health Department and hospitals.
The New York State Department of Health has an online form for donations of essential goods, such as medical masks.
To donate, visit the department’s website and fill out the form, which breaks down donated goods by category, including medical supplies. There is a subcategory for “personal protective equipment: respirator/mask.” The form asks for the quantity, what area of the state you live in, how long the masks will be available and if you need help transporting the goods. Email COVID19supplies@esd.ny.gov for more information.
Donors should specify the type and quantity of supplies and whether they can be delivered or picked up, and include their email address and phone number.
Call local groups.
The Afya Foundation, a nonprofit based in Yonkers, N.Y., that finds unused medical supplies and delivers them to underserved health systems, is seeking donations of masks of all kinds for the greater New York area.
“We have to help those helping us,” said Danielle Butin, the group’s founder. She added that the foundation was also accepting opened and expired masks. “Anything is better than nothing,” she said. “Nothing serves no one.”
The foundation is asking people to donate supplies to its warehouse, which it will then deliver to hospitals and health centers in need. The foundation also asks that people call their doctors, dentists and other specialists to urge them to donate supplies. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PPE 2 NYC, a coalition of medical students, is collecting N95 and surgical masks, gloves and other items for area hospitals. Donors are encouraged to fill out an online form. The group has set up drop-off locations, and they can also pick items up.
Donate directly to a health professional.
If you happen to know medical workers personally, you can reach out to them to drop off medical masks. The priority should be given to emergency room doctors and other medical professionals who are likely to come into contact with people infected by the coronavirus.
“There is definite value in donating nonmedical masks that meet N95 standards because, at a minimum, they could be used by medical workers who may not be on the front line of patient care (orderlies and custodians, for example) and perhaps don’t need an advanced medical respirator but still need N95 protection,” Mr. Peltier said in an email.
Use these sites to connect with medical professionals.
There are at least two websites geared toward connecting New York residents with medical professionals who need crucial supplies.
NYC Mask Crusaders allows artists, institution laborers and others to donate their extra masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment, including eyewear, clothing and isopropyl or ethyl alcohol. Through this platform, front-line workers can connect directly with donors. Donors should fill out one form per type of donated item, and someone will reach out directly to coordinate a pickup. Donors can also state whether their items are unopened, as the criteria varies among hospitals and medical facilities. There are chapters in several other cities across the United States, including Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles.
Mask Match helps people with spare N95 and surgical masks to get those supplies to medical professionals. Donations of at least five masks are given priority. Fill out the appropriate online forms and Mask Match will verify the identities of health care workers before making any matches. Once that is done, the donor is instructed to ship the supplies. So far, Mask Match has helped thousands of needed supplies reach health care workers.
How can New Jersey and Connecticut residents help?
Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey has recommended that residents wishing to donate personal protective equipment — including N95 and surgical masks, face shields, booties and coveralls — use the state’s official donation portal.
New Jersey residents can also directly donate to hospitals. RWJBarnabas Health, which operates 11 hospitals and three children’s hospitals in the state, is accepting donated personal protective equipment and contributions to its emergency response fund. However, hospitals are no longer accepting drop-offs and people are urged to bring their donations to one of three designated drop-off locations across the state. Email email@example.com.
Connecticut residents with items to donate are being urged to contact the state by filling out an online form. There is a request for N95 and surgical masks, as well as with surgical gowns, gloves, thermometers and more. To ensure the donations reach hospitals and medical facilities, the state is partnering with United Way 2-1-1, a program that helps Connecticut residents find vital resources.
Stamford Health is looking for disposable face masks and N95 masks.
“We have what we need right now, but there is so much unknown that we are doing everything we can to acquire additional P.P.E. to keep our work force and our patients safe,” said Andie Jodko, a Stamford Health spokeswoman.
People can drop the masks off at a curbside area at Stamford Health Tully Health Center in Stamford from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. The medical center requests that items be in their original, unopened packages. For more information, reach out to Belinda Foster at the Stamford Hospital Foundation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 203-276-5995.