‘Spirit of San Diego': Thousands of Volunteers Repair 300K Defective N95 Masks for Health Care Workers

More than 4,280 San Diegans answered the call for the effort that ultimately took six weeks to complete

Volunteer repairs straps on defective N95 mask

Thanks to thousands of local volunteers, about 300,000 pieces of once-defective face masks can be used to protect medical staff at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19.

The N95 respirator masks -- meant to protect health care workers from airborne contagions as they test and treat patients who may have the novel coronavirus -- had brittle straps that snapped easily when a medical worker tried to place the mask over their face.

Hearing of the news and wanting to do something to help amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Rock Church organized a volunteer effort to repair the defective masks.

More than 4,280 San Diegans answered the call for the effort that ultimately took six weeks to complete.

"The people of San Diego care, people around the world care," The Rock Church's Pastor Miles McPherson said of the endeavor. "Its an honor to serve our medical workers by putting these masks together."

On Monday, 263,000 pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) that would have otherwise gone to waste were ready to be delivered to San Diego County's Office of Emergency Services (OES). Another 37,000 pieces would be ready by the end of the week, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.

"It speaks volumes about San Diego County, how the city of San Diego, how all of us are really coming together to help," Faulconer said. "These masks are desperately needed and to repurpose them, to say 'Hey, they all need elastic straps' and to see the assembly line that is happening in there shows ingenuity and it shows the spirit of San Diego."

The OES will ultimately give the PPE to hospitals, testing sites and medical facilities to be utilized by doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

"We realize that they're the ones saving our lives. They're the ones that when we get in trouble, we want them coming and we just want to say thank you," McPherson said. "My prayer is that we never stop -- when this is all over that we continue to give them honor and encourage them."

To ensure the PPE was safe for medical workers, volunteers were pre-screened to ensure they did not have respiratory illness symptoms and that they were not recently at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Those that were approved sat six feet apart at different tables as they work one-by-one to remove the dilapidated elastic and staple a new piece of elastic to the mask -- a process that took about a minute each, McPherson said.

The N95 respirators -- a type of mask that filters airborne particles and prevents liquid particles from contaminating the face -- is a piece of vital equipment for health care workers treating patients with COVID-19. But, due to a shortage of PPE, hospitals have loosened guidelines to accommodate the need.

The CDC created a checklist for hospitals to use in order to extend their N95 supply in "periods of expected or known N95 respirator shortages." Some of the suggestions include, reusing N95 respirators for patients with COVID-19, using N95 respirators beyond the manufacture-designated shelf life and prioritizing the use of N95 respirators by activity type.

The N95 respirators given to the county were expired but the filtration system on the masks are still intact, meaning that they are considered usable under CDC guidelines now that the straps have been repaired by volunteers.

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