At his daily press conference today, Gov. Baker said he managed to keep all those Chinese N95 masks out of federal hands by calling their shipment a "private humanitarian mission" and enlisting the help of the Kraft family, who sent their football team's jet over to China to pick them up.
Meanwhile, state officials said Massachusetts has yet to receive any of the 1,000 ventilators the feds had earlier promised Baker Massachusetts would get. Despite that the state yesterday upped its request for ventilators it may never get to 1,400. "We've not yet received any ventilators," Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said.
Baker said that after that the state had ordered 3 million masks through BJs, only to have the federal government seize them as they sat in the port of New York awaiting shipment here, he began a desperate search to find more masks. He said he called pretty much everybody he knew to see if they had any connections overseas that might be able to help Massachusetts get more N95 masks - even people at the state's cultural institutions, because many of them have overseas ties.
He said he finally found a company in China that had masks to sell.
But he said he didn't want to risk another federal seizure, so he called Jonathan Kraft to talk about how to arrange a "private humanitarian mission" to pick up the masks - and get them to Massachusetts.
He said Kraft and his father, Robert, "were terrific" and immediately went to work arranging the logistics - which involved sending the Patriots jet to Shenzen, China to pick up the masks.
He also said China's ambassador to the UN played a critical role in getting the permissions needed to arrange the purchase and shipment. Even the governor of Alaska helped out, by arranging for the plane to land there so the crew could rest on the way back with the masks.
Sudders said the bulk of the masks are scheduled to arrive at Logan Airport later today - with part of the shipment going to New York City and Rhode Island. A panel of medical experts will then determine how to dole them out. Institutions with a high need because they are already dealing with large numbers of Covid-19 patients, such as certain hospitals, will get priority, as well as other institutions that have less than a five-day supply of the masks.
The Patriots jet crew had to leave about 500,000 masks behind - they wouldn't fit on the plane - but those are supposed to be shipped here later.
Baker added the state will also get additional help by Monday, when Partners Healthcare plans to start up an N95 disinfecting system, in an abandoned Kmart in Somerville, that can disinfect up to 80,000 masks a day. The masks can be cycled through the system, which uses concentrated hydrogen-peroxide vapors, up to five times, according to its manufacturer.