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Northwest Red Cross refuses to disclose number of surplus masks

Questions for Northwest leadership follow discovery of more than 50,000 unused Red Cross medical masks in California.

SEATTLE — The Northwest region of the American Red Cross will not say how many surplus medical masks it has in storage, or other personal protective equipment (PPE) that is desperately needed by healthcare workers now.

The question is being raised after the discovery of more than 50,000 medical masks that the Red Cross in Stockton, California has stored in a warehouse. The Red Cross chapter in Stockton has refused to release the masks, claiming that they might be needed for future “emergency shelters.”

In Washington, Red Cross leadership will only say they have a “…limited stockpile of PPE in order to maintain its readiness to respond to disasters across the country…,” according to a statement from Northwest spokesperson Colin Downey.

“I’m not able to share that number with you,” Downey emailed in response to a question about the exact number of masks the Red Cross has in storage in its facilities in Washington and Idaho.

See a full statement from the Red Cross below.

In an earlier email, CEO of the Northwest region Alex Dieffenbach echoed that there is a “limited number” of masks, “…the majority of which were acquired 40 years ago during the Mt. St. Helens eruption.”    

It’s unclear if the decades-old masks would be usable and why the Red Cross held on to them to so long.

Dieffenbach said the supplies will be held in storage “…in the event that emergency shelters need to be opened in communities with a coronavirus outbreak.”

Marc Auerbach is campaigns manager for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 21, which represents 17,000 healthcare workers in Washington State.

“I don’t really feel comfortable weighing in on the Red Cross, but what I will say is this: We have been working at every level to try to get the equipment that frontline healthcare workers and first responders need,” Auerbach told KING 5. 

Auerbach said medical masks are the most difficult item to obtain right now.

Unions that represent healthcare workers launched "Supplies Save Lives," which accept donations of personal protective equipment and other supplies to get them in the hands of medical workers immediately.

The Northwest Region of the American Red Cross shared the following statement with KING 5 on Tuesday: 

"The American Red Cross maintains a limited stockpile of PPE in order to maintain its readiness to respond to disasters across the country and maintain our support of over 40% of the nation’s blood supply. 

Given the increasing shortage of supplies for critical health professionals, we are distributing a portion of this stockpile to points of highest need as defined by our government partners. We are also supporting numerous offers from partners and corporations and directing them to the appropriate agencies for distribution. We will continue to work alongside local officials and community partners to identify the needs and what support the Red Cross can provide, if requested."

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