A Bel Air couple has started The Hero Masks Project, an initiative to raise money to purchase and deliver protective gear to those working on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and ultimately, the public at large.
“Everybody who is considered an essential worker that has contact with the public should have protection so that they don’t get infected, and they should also have protection, so that if they are infected, they don’t infect the public,” Brian Gallagher said.
He and his wife, Natalie, launched the project late last week. They used their own funds to purchase masks and gloves from manufacturers based overseas, had them shipped to Harford County by air, and have started providing them to local entities.
The supplies are either sold to the recipients “at cost” or donated, according to Brian Gallagher. He dropped a package of masks and gloves at Key Point Health Services in Aberdeen last Friday to support Key Point staffers working with clients in the community — those supplies were sold to the agency at cost.
“For organizations who have a purchasing budget to procure what they need, we prefer to sell at cost to them, as we can then put their funds back into resupply for the next round,” he explained.
The Gallaghers want to donate supplies to organizations in need but might not have the funds to make a purchase, such as operators of a homeless shelter.
He stressed that he and his wife are not operating a nonprofit entity, but the project is a “zero-profit” initiative. The Gallaghers received state approval of their articles of organization March 31, meaning they have a “legal business entity,” Hero Masks LLC. That gives them an entity to accept donations, open business bank accounts, seek lines of credit, even provide legal protection, according to Brian.
Health care workers around the country have struggled to keep themselves supplied with personal protective equipment, or PPE, as they work to handle a COVID-19 caseload that increases by the day, leaving workers short of gear such as masks, gloves, gowns and eye protection.
While many people who contract the respiratory disease do recover, it has been fatal for other patients, especially those with underlying health conditions. There is no vaccine and no approved treatment for COVID-19 as of now.
Many states, including Maryland, have enacted strict measures to curtail social interaction and slow the spread of the disease. People are still able to go to work, though, and the Gallaghers are working to secure protective gear for workers who have regular interaction with the public, such as health care workers, supermarket employees or food delivery drivers.
“One of the biggest challenges now is, the supply chain is just getting so overloaded,” said Brian, who noted prices of PPE supplies have increased along with demand during the global coronavirus pandemic.
“Time is of the essence before other countries start going the way of Spain and Italy,” and demand for protective gear for other nations goes up, according to Brian.
Medical supply companies in the U.S. are struggling to keep up with demand for PPE, as well as major retailers such as Amazon. Brian noted that it has been more efficient to acquire supplies from manufacturers based overseas in countries such as China, and have them shipped by air.
People can support The Hero Masks Project by visiting the project website, www.heromasks.org and donating. The more money people donate, the easier it is for the Gallaghers to purchase large orders of 50,000 to 100,000 units at minimum, which is typically required by the overseas manufacturers and supplies, according to the website.
People also can visit the website for more information on volunteering, providing sponsorships and filing requests for supplies.
“I feel like people want to help but they don’t know how to help [during the pandemic], and this is one way they can help by getting involved, [supporting] this project,” Natalie Gallagher said.
Brian said his father completed radiation treatment for cancer around the same time news coverage of coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, started earlier this year. The virus “sounded like a big concern,” and he wanted to ensure his father, who is living with Brian’s brother’s family in Bel Air, and his relatives had sufficient protective gear while his father was recovering.
The masks project started as a way for the Gallaghers and their two younger children, ages 5 and 8, to support the workers who have been delivering food to their house as restaurants have closed to dine-in customers and schools have been closed since mid-March.
The family has supplied packages of gloves, masks and disinfecting wipes to the Buontempo Bros. pizza restaurant in downtown Bel Air as well as the Domino’s off of North Main Street for the drivers “that are keeping us well fed,” Brian said.
He noted Thursday that he and his wife had purchased 10,000 face masks and 3,000 face shields.
“Hopefully, we’ll get donations in to help cover those costs and then some, so we can get even more [supplies],” Brian wrote in a text message.
“Unfortunately, time isn’t just money anymore,” he added. “Time is lives when it comes to getting this PPE in and into the hands of people that need it.”
Masks for the public
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Earlier in the pandemic, medical and government officials encouraged people in the U.S. to avoid wearing face masks when out in public unless they were sick, in order to conserve supplies for medical workers. Officials also noted that wearing a mask when sick helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 by catching infected droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, but they are not sufficient to protect healthy people from the virus.
Those views are starting to change, though, amid media reports that the wearing of masks in public has lessened the spread in a number of Asian countries, where it was common for people to wear masks when out even before the pandemic, and some European countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic are requiring their citizens to wear masks when visiting places such as supermarkets.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into a recommendation that Americans do the same, The Washington Post reported earlier this week.
“I think that’s compelling,” Natalie said of recent reports about mask wearing.
Natalie, who was born and raised in South Africa, recalled when she was flying back to the U.S. after visiting family in England during January, and being in Heathrow Airport and seeing Asian travelers wearing face masks. European travelers did not have their faces covered, though, and the sight “triggered a lot of the anxiety” that many people in Europe and the U.S. now feel about coronavirus.
The Gallaghers hope to obtain enough supplies so they can give them out to the general public, potentially on a drive-through basis, in exchange for donations.
“The more people who wear masks, the more protection there is and the less risk of transmission there is,” Natalie said.