WASHINGTON -- The Washington National Cathedral has donated 5,000 long-forgotten respirator masks to local hospitals after finding them stashed away in a storage area of the cathedral's crypt level.
In a news release, the cathedral staff said the N95 masks were purchased "more than a decade ago" so that clergy could continue to safely provide pastoral care in the event of a bird flu outbreak. They were only recently re-discovered during routine work.
After confirming with health officials that the masks were still safe to use, cathedral officials donated the masks to nearby MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Children's National Hospital. The cathedral said it retained "a small number" of masks for its own pastoral use.
"We're thrilled to be able to have something coming out of this cathedral, even though the building is closed, that can help a lot of wonderful folks," Rev. Randolph Hollerith, the cathedral's dean, told local television station WJLA.
As the world copes with the coronavirus pandemic, imports of critical medical supplies including N95 masks have sharply declined in recent weeks due to factory closures in China, where manufacturers had been required to sell all or part of their supply internally rather than export to other countries.
Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly updated its guidance, saying hospitals that run low on surgical masks should consider ways to reuse them or to use them through an entire shift. And if hospitals run out, the CDC said, scarfs or bandanas could be used "as a last resort," though some health officials warned cloth masks might not work.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.