Florida Courts Find Stockpiles of Surgical Masks, Prompting Nationwide Search

April 3, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has directed federal courts across the nation to conduct a search for surplus medical supplies after two Florida courts discovered such stockpiles and donated them to local hospitals.

Employees in the Northern District of Florida, a court district that stretches from Tallahassee to Pensacola, found 1,200 N95 respirator masks in their three courthouses after employees recalled they’d been purchased more than a decade ago for protection from possible anthrax attacks.

As soon as he learned of the find, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordered the masks donated to five area hospitals.

In the wake of the find, employees in the Middle District of Florida, a court district encompassing Orlando and Tampa, conducted their own search and found over 300 masks and more than 2,000 pairs of gloves.

On Wednesday, James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, urged all federal courts, federal public defenders’ offices, and probation and pretrial services offices to look for safety supplies and donate supplies to hospitals, if they are not required for staff and officer safety needs.

The effort is “an example of one small way the federal Judiciary can help the greater cause of fighting this deadly virus,” Duff said.

Jessica Lyublanovits, clerk of court for the Northern District of Florida, said her court’s donations “support the communities we serve and the medical professionals who are so desperately in need of supplies.

“Nothing reinforced how important our donation was than having the lab director for one of the hospitals break down in tears as the masks were delivered,” she said.

N95 masks are especially critical to the medical profession, because they seal tightly against the face and filter out 95 percent of airborne particles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The N95 masks have a recommended shelf life, but the CDC said that in emergency scenarios, older masks often remain appropriate for many medical uses.

“The masks have been in our mail rooms and supply closets across the district for many years as part of our emergency preparedness supplies,” Lyublanovits said. “As public servants, we all independently recognized that this was the right thing to do, even though our donation was small when compared to the overall number of masks needed by our health-care professionals.”

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