(Image courtesy of San Francisco Health System)

San Francisco city officials, union leaders and homeless service providers joined efforts to acquire 14,000 medical grade masks, which will be donated to homeless people, home care and health care workers throughout the Bay Area.

The masks are desperately needed amid a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment in hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The masks are also needed for home care workers who look after senior citizens, as well as for homeless people, who can’t always practice social distancing or regular hand washing.

“Hospital workers, early on, often had to make their masks and gowns and reuse them. And early on, our 20,000 plus home care workers were also not provided basic protective like masks and disinfectant wipes,” said Supervisor Gordon Mar.

“Providing adequate support to people who are experiencing homelessness has become even more urgent,” he said.

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar.

“As a city and as a community we’re still struggling to address this unprecedented health and economic crisis, and as a city we’re not able to address everything in the most timely and comprehensive way,” Mar said. “So, that’s why we do rely on the community to step up and fill up gaps that the city emergency response system is not able to fill,” he said.

Supervisor Matt Haney said the effort to donate the masks would save lives.

“It’s going to make people safe and their families safer. And it’s going to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” he said. “Ultimately we are only going to get through this if we support each other and we all step up and do everything we absolutely can.”

The effort to donate the 14,000 masks was organized by the COVID-19 Relief Bay Area Task Force, which has raised money within the Chinese American community to purchase personal protective equipment in China.

The equipment is then shipped to the Bay Area, where members of Service Employees International Union Local 2015 help distribute the donations.

Hospitals receiving masks include Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, St. Luke’s Hospital, Seton Medical Center and St. Francis Memorial Hospital.

The push for PPE for health care workers and the homeless follows an outbreak at a San Francisco homeless shelter that has now resulted in more than 100 positive COVID-19 cases (as of April 17).

“This is an incredible donation and contribution to the essential workers of San Francisco,” said Joe Wilson, executive director of Hospitality House in San Francisco.

“Our staff is working very closely both with our shelter and with residents that have been moved to hotel accommodations,” he said. “We have reduced hours, but we’re still open at both of our drop-in centers. We’re seeing about 100 people a day at our drop-in centers. Our staff puts themselves on the line every single day and we don’t have supplies of personal protective equipment.”