The mayor of the largest city in western Massachusetts is demanding more protective face masks for public safety personnel. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
An angry and frustrated Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said Wednesday the city’s police officers and firefighters are burning through their supply of N95 respirator masks while an order for 3,000 masks placed weeks ago was never processed by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
" I've been told to wait, to wait, to wait," said Sarno. "I am not waiting anymore."
Sarno is the latest elected official to voice exasperation and outrage over the shortages of personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
He said at a City Hall news conference that officials who complain the loudest – he pointed specifically to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo – seem to get results.
"The squeaky wheel gets the oil," said Sarno. " Now I am coming with a flame torch because I need action and I need it immediately to protect my police and fire department."
Sarno said MEMA informed the city that based on the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, police officers and firefighters should wear surgical masks.
" They changed the rules on us," said Sarno.
The city has now placed orders for thousands of N95 masks with four different vendors, but is unsure any of the orders will be filled given the nationwide demand.
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said police and firefighters who frequently respond to emergency medical calls are at high risk.
" It is critical that they are protected," said Caulton-Harris.
She noted the Massachusetts Department of Public Health advised that police officers and firefighters should wear N95 masks when they enter a hospital.
Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said each of the city’s roughly 500 police officers had been issued N95 masks along with instructions on washing and reuse. But the masks only hold up so long and she said currently there are only 80 in the department’s stockpile.
"To be denied this equipment now is a real slap in the face," said Clapprood.
The fire department has about 275 masks, and is going through them at the rate of about 10-per day according to Fire Commissioner Bernard Calvi.
"The gold standard for protection from respiratory droplets is the KN95 or N95 mask and the first responders on the front lines deserve that protection," said Calvi.
Last week, Massachusetts got a shipment of 1.2 million N95 masks from China that were flown over on a plane owned by the New England Patriots.
Officials said 300,000 of the masks were sent to New York City. The rest are being distributed by MEMA.
Late Wednesday, Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders confirmed Springfield was not sent the masks city officials requested.
" What they are requesting is N95s which are not in compliance with the CDC guidence and the PPEs (personal protective equipment) that we distribute is in compliance with the CDC guidence which is on our website," said Sudders.
Sarno’s office said after his appeal, the MassMutual corporation donated an undisclosed number of N95 masks to the city.