Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West announced Thursday that it located 39 million N95 masks and will make them available to state and local governments and health care systems that are fighting the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The union found a distributor with the masks, which are cleared for surgical use, after pleas from health care workers as new coronavirus cases surge across the state and the country as a whole.
Union officials said they also found a supplier that can produce some 20 million protective masks per week and another that can supply millions of protective face shields.
"We are continuing to turn over every rock to see if we can find more personal protective equipment to make sure that healthcare workers, who are heroically putting their own health on the line to care for patients, can do their jobs as safely as possible," SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan said.
The supplier has already sold some of the masks to the state of California, the Greater New York Hospital Association, Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente, Stanford Health Care, Sutter Health and Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Clara counties.
Union representatives have connected procurement officials from each recipient directly to the supplier to arrange each transaction. Hospitals in Arizona have also been offered 2 million masks from the supplier but have yet to accept, according to Regan.
"While we are pleased with these initial results, we recognize they are stopgap measures in light of the estimated 3.5 billion masks that could be needed during this pandemic," Regan said. "We urgently need the federal government to step in and drive a coordinated national response to the PPE (personal protective equipment) shortage."