Cambridge police officers and firefighters delivered roughly 50,000 donated masks to Mount Auburn Hospital and Cambridge Hospital Tuesday as medical professionals work to treat coronavirus patients.
EMS Division Captain Jeremy A. Walsh of the Cambridge Fire Department — who coordinated the distribution of the masks along with Officer Jason Callinan, a registered nurse — said in a Wednesday interview that the two hospitals faced dwindling supplies due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The officers also delivered hand sanitizer to the hospitals.
GCP Applied Technologies, a Cambridge-based construction technologies company, immediately responded to a donation request from the Cambridge Fire and Police Department and supplied the masks for distribution, according to Walsh.
“Mount Auburn Hospital said they were starting to get a little bit worried about their supply,” Walsh said. “And they were certainly rationing this equipment, so we wanted to get there as quickly as possible [to deliver the masks].”
GCP sourced the protective gear from flu-response kits that had sat in boxes for years, according to Walsh. He said the donated equipment expired in 2012 but is still usable.
“[GCP] said they had a bunch of masks and that they were expired,” Walsh said. “Lots of hospitals are turning to expired equipment and to masks.”
“It's not like a medication,” he added. “They don't degrade really, and we're not too sure why they expire.”
GCP Applied Technologies did not respond to requests for comment.
In an FAQ page on shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA noted that expired masks “still offer some protection even when they are used beyond the manufacturer’s designated shelf life or expiration date.”
Upon delivering the masks and hand sanitizer, Walsh said “it was kind of like Christmas morning with little kids — but these were nurses and doctors who were very, very happy to get them.”
Healthcare workers at Mount Auburn and Cambridge Hospital responded to the donations with “thank you emails” and a “big virtual hug,” according to Jeremy Warnick, a city spokesperson.
Warnick added that several non-profit organizations “in dire need” have recently reached out to local officials for assistance. He said the city hopes Cambridge companies with a surplus of personal protective equipment — such as masks, goggles, and hand sanitizers — will consider donating it.
“We certainly can use it across the board and throughout the city,” Warnick said.
Despite the swift response in donations, first responders and city officials never expected to coordinate a collection effort for surgical masks because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Walsh. He said he partook in a “pandemic tabletop exercise” in January, which focused more on “mass vaccinations.”
“I never thought we'd see this where they needed donations, but here we are,” Walsh said.
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale wrote they are grateful for both GCP’s donation and the public response to health and safety efforts amid the COVID-19 outbreak more broadly in a joint statement released Tuesday.
“We greatly appreciate GCP Applied Technologies for their generosity and our public safety and health care providers for their ongoing resiliency and selfless commitment to mitigating and slowing the pandemic,” they wrote.
—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.