(RNS) — The Washington National Cathedral will donate thousands of medical masks to two hospitals in the nation’s capital after discovering a trove of the much-needed protective equipment just feet from where Helen Keller and other prominent Americans lie in the cathedral’s underground crypts.
Bought in 2006 as a precaution during an outbreak of the H5N1 flu, also known as bird or avian flu, the more than 5,000 N95 respiratory masks had been forgotten until early this month, when the cathedral’s chief stonemason, Joseph Alonso, remembered coming across them in an unfinished area of the crypt level.
Though still in their original packaging, the masks were technically expired, and cathedral staffers first reached out to the manufacturer and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine whether they were safe to use.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. last month, mass buying of N95 masks has resulted in a critical shortage at medical centers. Doctors across the country have been reusing masks, along with medical gowns and eye shields, risking spreading the disease to multiple patients or contracting it themselves.
Given the dire situation, Kevin Eckstrom, the chief communications officer at the cathedral, said they were told the decade-old masks “were either fine or better than nothing.”
On Wednesday (March 25), 3,000 masks will be…
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