Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted Saturday that the company was donating “millions of masks for healthcare professionals in the United States and Europe” to help combat the spread of the new coronavirus. Cook’s tweet seems to confirm a statement previously made by Vice President Mike Pence.
“The president and I heard directly from Apple that they are donating 2 million industrial masks to this effort across the country and working with our administration to distribute them,” Pence said at a White House press conference.
It is unclear how (and if) Apple was able to obtain the two million skins that Pence referenced: The Verge has contacted the company for more information.
Globally, masks are in high demand, but supplies are running low. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a note to employees on Saturday that “skins are still rare around the world.” The company has “placed purchase orders for millions of face masks that we want to give to our employees and contractors who cannot work from home, but very few of those orders have been completed,” Bezos wrote.
N95 respirators are disposable, fitted masks that can keep virus-laden drops away from the wearer’s mouth and nose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that the effectiveness of masks “depends largely on proper fit and use.”
Pence said Saturday that the Department of Health and Human Services “placed an order for hundreds of millions of N95 masks,” with the order coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Where the masks were ordered from and when they would be available was unclear from Pence’s comments.
The shortage of personal protective equipment, such as face masks, has become a serious problem for health workers, and some resort to the use of less effective masks or even lack of treatment during the treatment of patients, The New York Times reported. Last week, Pence asked construction companies to donate their protective masks to hospitals and refrain from asking for more. “Those industrial masks they wear on construction sites are perfectly acceptable for health workers to be protected from respiratory illness,” the vice president said in a briefing on Tuesday.
But ProPublica reports that there has been confusion over how such donations would be made, and the White House has not given clear instructions.
On Saturday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters in the White House information room that it would be “within weeks” for medical professionals to receive fresh supplies of masks. “We are going to try to make the days as good as possible,” he said.
It appears that some companies and individuals have donated directly. On Twitter, director Peyton Reed thanked Tesla CEO Elon Musk for donating supplies: “a truckload of PPE (masks, gowns, etc.)” to a UCLA health center. We contacted Tesla to confirm that Musk sent the donation but has received no response.
And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company was donating an emergency reserve of 720,000 masks. “We are also getting much more to donate,” he added.