Volunteers to Repair Hundreds of Thousands of Defective N95 Masks for San Diego Health Care Workers

It takes about a minute to repair each mask and The Rock Church Pastor Miles McPherson estimates it could be weeks before all 300,000 masks are completed

n-95 respirator masks
The Rock Church

About 100 San Diego volunteers have answered the call to repair hundreds of thousands of defective protective masks that would otherwise be unusable by local health care workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.

The Rock Church helped organize San Diegans for the volunteer effort and, this week, dozens will come together at the Rosecrans Street facility -- while adhering to social distancing recommendations -- to repair about 300,000 defective N5 respirators shipped to the county.

"We need to go over and above for our medical staff right now,” The Rock Church Pastor Miles McPherson said. "I know that they have an important job right now and it’s up to us to help in any way that we can."

The N95 masks, which are expired but are still considered usable under current Centers for Disease Control guidelines, have elastic straps that are brittle and break when a medical worker tries to place the mask on their face, according to the church.

The defect would have made the respirators unusable by local health care workers but, thanks to the help of the volunteers, nurses, doctors and other vital hospital staff will once again be able to utilize the much-needed protective equipment, Supervisor Greg Cox said in the county's daily briefing.

McPherson said as soon as the coronavirus outbreak began, The Rock Church was looking for ways their team could help. When the need for volunteers to fix masks arose, the church began organizing efforts.

Each volunteer is pre-screened to ensure they do not have respiratory illness symptoms and that they were not recently at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Those that are approved will sit 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 takes about a minute each, McPherson said.

The effort began on Monday with about 100 volunteers at one location but there is still a need for additional helpers as the church continues their efforts on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, McPherson said. By next week, The Rock Church will expand its endeavor to four locations across San Diego County.

In all, the process could take up to three weeks to fix the entire 300,000 supply, McPherson said. Anyone 18-or-older wishing to volunteer should text "info" to 52-525 or pre-register here to ensure they adhere to the necessary criteria.

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 allow 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.

How to Help in San Diego County During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Find out what you can do to lend a hand during these difficult times.

This change allows the county to use the expired masks once the elastic is repaired by the volunteer group, the county said noting that the filtration system on the masks is still intact.

Some of the changes, though, have led health care workers to protest guidelines taken by their hospitals.

Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) Medical Services Administrator Rob Sills, who is coordinating the county's emergency supply said he discusses the PPE supply with each of the county's emergency managers daily and has not yet heard of a resource shortage at local facilities.

Sills and other county leaders have said at daily news briefings that county health officials are working with both state and federal officials to request supplies. County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said at the county's daily news briefing on Friday more than 428,000 N95 masks have been secured through those partnerships.

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