State puts out call for volunteers, PPE donations

To try to make sure people on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic get the protective equipment they need, Massachusetts has set up an online portal that individuals and companies can use to donate or sell things like gloves, masks, gowns, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

The state's request for gear and a corresponding call for health care professionals to volunteer to assist the state response to the pandemic comes while at least 4,257 people in Massachusetts are battling COVID-19. As of Saturday, 44 people in the Bay State have died of the respiratory disease.

The state's new COVID-19 PPE Procurement and Donation Program will streamline procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and allow the state to better ensure that the gear in short supply gets into the hands of the people who need it the most, Gov. Charlie Baker said.

"We also need more volunteers to help support our response to this unprecedented public health emergency, and urge people to sign up to lend a hand," the governor said. "Our administration will continue making every effort to secure supplies from all possible resources to support our front line workers during these tough times."

The list of items the state is seeking includes N95 or N99 masks, facemasks with built-in shields, surgical masks, powered air-purifying respirators, goggles, gloves, gowns, booties, head covers, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer. All the items have been in short supply around the world as the coronavirus sweeps across continents.

"We have a constant demand and need for personal protective equipment (PPE) available to our medical, first responder and essential service communities. Over the past week, hundreds of deliveries of PPE have been made to front line health care providers, and first responders, but we need so much more," Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, who is leading the state's COVID-19 Command Center, said. "Last week more than 28,000 masks, and 120,000 pairs of gloves were distributed, and we’ve placed more than $50 million in orders for additional supplies. We are also waiting on our third delivery from the Strategic National Stockpile."

The administration said the online portal to match donations or products for sale with those who need the products is in addition to "current efforts to leverage traditional and emergency supply chain channels."

On Thursday, a visibly frustrated Baker said he and other governors around the country are "killing ourselves" trying to purchase PPE only to watch their efforts fall apart when they are outbid by the federal government.

"We are doing everything we can through an incredibly messy thicket that is enormously frustrating for all of us to try to get them the gear they deserve and they need," Baker said when asked for his message to concerned health care employees. "I stand here as someone who has had confirmed orders for millions of pieces of gear evaporate in front of us, and I can't tell you how frustrating it is."

Massachusetts has already spent more than $28 million on the personal protective equipment, referred to as PPE, and medical equipment alone, Baker wrote in a Thursday letter to President Donald Trump.

To reach medical professionals who could volunteer to assist with the state's COVID-19 response, the administration has partnered with the Massachusetts Medical Society to match volunteers with communities or providers based on need and the volunteer's skillset. The administration said more than 1,000 people have already volunteered, but that there is "an immediate need" for respiratory therapists and public health nurses.

The administration's Sunday announcement of a PPE and volunteer drive also included word that Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy has been leading a Manufacturing Emergency Response Team, co-chaired by Mike Tamasi, the president and CEO of AccuRounds, a precision components manufacturer in Avon.

Baker's office said the online PPE portal will serve as "an entry point for local manufacturers to get more information on adapting their businesses to produce more equipment here in Massachusetts."

"It comes as no surprise that both manufacturers and university R&D partners across Massachusetts have stepped up during this challenging time to support those saving lives and provide logistical expertise toward stopping the spread of this virus," Kennealy said.

Congressman Joseph Kennedy III on Sunday was urging people to donate to the humanitarian aid group Direct Relief, which his campaign said is active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries and is currently focused on providing PPE to frontline workers across the country. In an email, Kennedy's campaign said that President Trump "finally invoked the Defense Production Act... but hasn't yet called for the production of masks."

At 4 p.m. Sunday, Sen. Edward Markey and Massachusetts General Hospital President Dr. Peter Slavin plan to hold a livestream discussion on the federal response to the pandemic, including the status of PPE supplies and the need to fully invoke the Defense Production Act.

On Friday, the MSPCA's Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston made a large donation of gowns, safety glasses, respirators, face shields and surgical masks to Mass. General Hospital. On Thursday, Angell lent its mechanical ventilator to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. And MSPCA's Nevins Farm in Methuen is sending 300 surgical masks to Lawrence General Hospital and 100 masks to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis.

Michael P. Norton contributed reporting.

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