Face Mask Shortage Inspires Crowdsourcing And #GetMePPE The shortage of masks and other protective gear has left medical staff pleading for help. Several pop-up volunteer groups are matching individual donors with local hospitals most in need.
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Can The U.S. Crowdsource Its Way Out Of A Mask Shortage? No, But It Still Helps

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Can The U.S. Crowdsource Its Way Out Of A Mask Shortage? No, But It Still Helps

Can The U.S. Crowdsource Its Way Out Of A Mask Shortage? No, But It Still Helps

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Doctors and nurses fighting the coronavirus say they are desperately short on protective gear, things like masks. So these makeshift donation networks have sprung up. Here's NPR's Eric Westervelt.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: The urgent pleas for more N95 respirator masks and other gear are still pouring in, especially from the hardest-hit states, including New York and California. Maria Louviaux, a clinical nurse at UC Irvine Medical Center, says the hospital's mask supply is now under lock and key. She and her colleagues are being told to severely limit the use of masks and, if they're not soiled, to reuse them.

MARIA LOUVIAUX: It makes us feel very unsafe. Our health is being put in jeopardy. The health of our patients are being put in jeopardy. Our family's health is being put in jeopardy.

WESTERVELT: A medical center spokesman says the policy is in place to conserve their supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE. And in Oakland, Calif., a nurse who fears for her job and didn't want her name used told me there just aren't enough masks and there doesn't seem to be any plan. She's being told to put her protective gear into a brown paper bag at shift's end and reuse it.

Given this crisis, scores of citizen-led groups are popping up to collect donated supplies. There's getusppe.org and donateppe.org and a group of volunteers called Mask Crusaders. They're asking contractors, nail salon owners, museums, anyone to search their closets and storage bins for masks. Brooklyn-based sculptor Tom Beale wanted to donate 50 surgical masks and some N95s in New York City, where some hospitals are close to being overwhelmed. He got in touch with Mask Crusaders. Soon, a nurse at a local hospital called. She told him her unit was down to their last mask.

TOM BEALE: I brought them to Woodhull Hospital, and a midwife came down. She was thrilled to receive them.

WESTERVELT: The next day, an artist friend gave Beale four N95s - just four. He went back to the Mask Crusaders site, and a New York nurse quickly claimed them for her hospital.

BEALE: I mean, it was palpable. You know, she drove to me to pick up four masks. So that tells you something about what they're dealing with.

WESTERVELT: But the scale of supplies that may be needed in coming months is enormous. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom says his state is radically ramping up procurement of safety gear from across the country and the globe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: One billion gloves to procure, 500 million N95 masks, some 200 million shields. You get the picture.

WESTERVELT: Newsom says now's the time for governors to work closely, noting that states are now competing with each other for the same limited medical supplies, which could disadvantage smaller states with smaller budgets.

Shabd Simon-Alexander, a community organizer in New York, helped launch Mask Crusaders. She says the volunteer response to this makeshift effort and many others like it is heartening. But she says it also underscores fundamental failures of federal and state government policy, planning and priorities.

SHABD SIMON-ALEXANDER: I'm super inspired by the way that people are stepping up to help each other, and I love to see, like, the beauty in humanity. But in reality, it shouldn't fall on us. We can't mutual aid our way out of systemic failure, and it's not sustainable. It's just a stopgap.

WESTERVELT: Simon-Alexander hopes that as these ad hoc efforts grow that maybe the definition of those who need masks also grows.

SIMON-ALEXANDER: There are tons of people doing the work of keeping our city and our society afloat right now so that we can be safe. That includes janitors, garbage pickup and all of the grocery store clerks.

WESTERVELT: Maybe it's not just doctors and nurses, she says. Those other front-line workers may need more protective gear as well.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News.

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