The US government reportedly has a stockpile of 1.5 million expired N95 masks in storage as hospitals around the country face critical shortage
- Federal agencies are reportedly deciding what to do with a stockpile of 1.5 million expired N95 masks sitting in storage as healthcare workers face critical shortages of protective gear treating coronavirus patients.
- Five people with knowledge of the stockpile told The Washington Post that the surplus of masks is sitting in a CBP warehouse in Indiana and has not yet been shipped out because they are expired.
- Sources told The Post that the masks are part of the CBP's emergency supplies and that the Department of Homeland Security has decided to offer the supplies to the Transportation Security Administration.
- According to the CDC, expired masks can still be effective if they were stored correctly.
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Federal agencies have a stockpile of 1.5 million expired N95 masks sitting in storage, despite reports of critical shortages at hospitals and medical centers treating coronavirus patients across the county.
N95 respirators are personal protective equipment used to shield the wearer's face from airborne disease particles. The masks are primarily used by healthcare professionals treating the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as by officials at the US Customs and Border Protection.
Experts have warned that the US faces a shortage of critical supplies, as the number of cases continues to grow. Doctors have started storing their single-use face masks in paper bags so they can reuse them, prompting ordinary people to donate face masks and other supplies to help medical staff facing shortages.
Five people with knowledge of the stockpile told The Washington Post that the surplus of masks is sitting in a CBP warehouse in Indiana.
Three unnamed sources told The Post that the masks are part of the CBP's emergency supplies and that the Department of Homeland Security has decided to offer the supplies to the Transportation Security Administration.
Officials have chosen not to ship the masks out due to their expiration date, the outlet added.
A senior administration official told The Post that the masks are "fully capable."
"We'd never put the lives of the men and women at DHS at risk," the official said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for using expired masks in February, stating that masks that are past their manufacturer-designated shelf life are no longer certified by the CDC but can be considered for use in the event of an emergency, like COVID-19.
According to the CDC, expired masks can still be effective if stored correctly.
"In the face of this emergency, the US Government believes that the respirators beyond their manufacturer-designated shelf life should provide greater respiratory protection than surgical masks (i.e., medical masks) alone, improvised mouth and nose covers (e.g., bandanas), or no protection at all," the CDC said in February.
Despite the demand for N95 masks in hospitals and for those on the front lines treating COVID-19, sources told The Post that CBP has no plans to offer the masks to hospitals or to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been working alongside the White House and other federal partners to provide resources to state and local governments.
Representatives for FEMA did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
A spokesperson for the CBP declined to comment on when or where the masks would be shipped out.
Nathan Peeters, a CBP spokesman, told The Post that the agency is aware that the stockpile exists and is working with partners in the Department of Homeland Security to determine their best use. He said the CBP has provided a 30-day supply of masks to Border Patrol officers and CBP agents, and added that the agency is in the process of obtaining 1.5 million additional masks that would be shipped in the coming weeks. He did not specify where these additional masks would be sourced from.
On Sunday, FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor told CNN's Jake Tapper that he could not give a "rough number" on the number of masks the Trump administration has bought and distributed to hospitals in need.
On Monday, President Donald Trump said FEMA would be distributing 8 million N95 respirators and 13.3 million surgical masks to areas hardest-hit by the virus. As of Thursday evening, the US reported over 83,000 cases of coronavirus, surpassing China and Italy in its case count.
Over 1,200 people have died in the US so far.
Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to direct private companies to make supplies in times of emergency, but he has since resisted calls to use it to tackle the outbreak.
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