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A worker carries boxes of respirator masks out of Washington National Cathedral on March 25, 2020. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] A severe shortage of masks and other medical equipment is putting health care workers at risk and limiting their ability to treat COVID-19 patients, and hospitals are hoping donated supplies come in soon. On March 25, two Washington, D.C., hospitals got a donation from an unlikely source: a stash of masks that was recently discovered in the crypt of Washington National Cathedral.

The cathedral has donated the 5,000 respirator masks to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Children’s National Hospital. They were purchased after the 2006 avian flu scare, according to the cathedral’s communications staff, “to allow clergy to provide pastoral care without putting their own health at risk” in the event of a future outbreak.

The masks were kept in storage on the cathedral’s crypt level and forgotten about until a stonemason found them during routine maintenance work. Cathedral staff consulted the manufacturer and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and concluded that the masks, which had never been opened, were safe to use.

“In these difficult and trying times, the cathedral community is doing everything we can to help protect the most vulnerable among us from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic,” the Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the National Cathedral, said in a press release. “We have made significant adjustments to our worship programs and made church services available for streaming online, and now we’re prepared to take this additional, proactive step to ensure thousands have access to protection that otherwise may never have been available to them.”

In response to a critical shortage of donated blood, the National Cathedral will also hold a blood drive with the American Red Cross on March 27.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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