As COVID-19 cases surge, Washington has 31M N95 masks in storage

VIDEO: As COVID cases surge, Washington has 31 million N95 masks in storage

Health care workers said they are still struggling to get critical N95 masks. As COVID-19 cases surge, they worry they won’t be protected.

KIRO 7 learned Washington has 31 million N95 masks in storage at the Washington State Enterprise Services Department. The majority of the N95s are from BYD, a Chinese automotive manufacturer.

The BYD masks have been found to not fit many workers who have smaller faces. N95 masks are specially designed to make sure they are secure.

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“The way that masks work — they really need to fit very snugly on your face. And a lot of caregivers, nursing staff especially, are women who have smaller faces,” said Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association.

When personal protective equipment was in short supply last spring, many orders were done sight unseen.

The Washington State Hospital Association bought 300,000 masks. When Sauer went to look at them at the warehouse, she knew there was a 50-50 chance they’d be usable.

She said, fortunately, they were for some — but not so much for others.

Some question why millions of masks are sitting in storage instead of being distributed at hospitals and care facilities.

“The state is not holding back. The state is meeting all the requests that we can from qualified facilities with the items we have in our reserves,” said Reed Schuler, the governor’s special adviser for pandemic health response.

“Today, a variety of places simply don’t have access at scale to the models they want or need. And typically, the state doesn’t either,” he said.

Health care workers usually have the brand and model of masks they’ve been fitted for, but getting those during the pandemic is tough.

Sauer thinks the state should streamline the process and allow hospitals to make requests directly to the state. Right now, hospitals and long-term care facilities have to make their requests to the county’s emergency management department. Those requests are prioritized and then requested from the state.

“Hospitals have to be in pretty desperate shape,” said Sauer. “They need to have less than about a 14-day supply of masks on hand.”

Schuler said as cases surge, the state will evaluate the supply of PPE and consider whether to have more of it in the field instead of waiting until there is a true emergency situation. He said it is a balance to protect the state now and in the future.

“One thing we’re all running scared from is the possibility that we will return to an even more dangerous environment as we watch cases spike across the country and here in Washington. We don’t know what the impact on global supply chains will be, and it is our duty to the people of Washington to make sure we’re ready and able to meet what those needs are,” said Schuler.