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Courts Search for Protective Gear to Aid Hospitals

Two district courts in Florida have discovered stockpiles of urgently needed protective gear and donated them to local hospitals, prompting a call to federal courts across the country to search for surplus medical supplies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Employees in the Northern District of Florida found 1,200 N95 respirator masks in their three courthouses, after employees recalled that the masks had been acquired more than a decade earlier to protect employees from possible anthrax attacks. At the direction of Chief Judge Mark Walker, the masks were immediately donated to five area hospitals.

“It was important for us to do our part, on behalf of the Judiciary, to support the communities we serve and the medical professionals who are so desperately in need of supplies,” said Jessica Lyublanovits, clerk of court for the Northern District of Florida. “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.”

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.”

As news of the district’s discovery spread, other courts have begun taking up the search. The Middle District of Florida found and gave away 300 masks and more than 2,000 pairs of protective gloves. Several other courts have taken similar steps, including the District of Massachusetts, which is donating two boxes of protective gloves originally purchased to wipe down surfaces that might have the coronavirus.

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.