U.S. Immigration N95 Mask Stockpile Won’t Go To Hospitals, Goes To TSA Instead

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has 1.5 million N95 masks sitting in an Indiana warehouse. The government hasn’t been willing to release them to anyone because they are ‘expired’ though the Centers for Disease Control guidelines has “issued [guidelines] for their safe use.” A senior official confirms “the masks in CBP storage are in usable condition” and are superior to having to re-use masks, something hospitals are now facing.

The masks and other protective gear are in such short supply at some New York City hospitals that staff have been wearing plastic garbage bags and other improvised equipment as they hope to ward off infection while treating patients.

And after discussions about what to do with the masks on Wednesday, it was concluded that “CBP has no plans to offer the masks to hard-hit hospitals, or hand them over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency…” Instead those will be given to the TSA. TSA screening is down over 80% since the beginning of the month.

TSA confirmed it has received an offer for a large quantity of N95 masks from CBP and that they will be distributed to airports as needed.

While hospitals are in desperately short supply, protective equipment is back ordered, Customs and Border Protection is busy acquiring another 1.5 million N95 masks that will replace those in storage.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Welcome to DHS being DHS, CBP being CBP, and TSA being TSA.

    Instead of serving struggling Americans and serving Americans working in healthcare, they are serving themselves first. America first? Not with the characters in charge unless and until they can do something to publicly pat themselves on the back after mucking around.

  2. To me, the word “expired” is synonymous with the phrase “class action law suit”. I was not able to read the Washington Post article Gary cited because it is behind a paywall. However, I was wondering if the Washington Post reporter considered the obvious legal angle.

    Actually, there is probably a lawyer among commentators here. I would be interested in hearing their opinion about the legal liability of giving expired masks to medical personnel who are likely to be exposed to the coronavirus.

  3. Expired in the way that canned soup, or aspirin, is expired;

    Still good, and certainly better than a bandana.

  4. As usual DHS and its component agencies fail to do anything that would improve the security or well-being of Americans. Why would anyone expect anything different?

  5. @Mojo. 100% agreed the masks are probably fine. However, that is not my question. Would there be legal liability if the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency gave the masks to medical personnel? Remember, masks or no masks, medical personnel are at risk of catching the coronavirus.

  6. In addition to the liability which makes sense, consider this:

    People getting screened are going all over the country/world; if a tsa person gets corona it could cause new cases to pop up anywhere.

    On the other hand, people visiting hospitals are probably not going anywhere and probably won’t spread it beyond their region.

    For curve flattening, this is not a terribly insane move.

  7. TSA can protect American passengers and other airport users by eliminating the passenger ID and boarding pass check. The ID and boarding pass checking carnival is a risk to Americans when it comes to spreading this novel coronavirus.

    Make America safe again: eliminate the TSA’s checking of passenger ID and boarding passes.

  8. This sucks. One more question to ask before we decide who gets the ventilator. Do you work for CBT that withheld N-95 masks from healthcare workers? All kidding aside- very bad public health decision- 20% of SARS were healthcare acquired, not TSA acquired. Aerosolization for 10 minutes within 6 feet is greatest risk- nebulizer treatment, intubation, etc. Terrible public health decision. Easy to confirm that they still work with fit testing tests. Liability could be assumed by US, just like vaccines. No excuse for not giving 90% of them to hospitals now. Nobody seems to be thinking clearly about this.

  9. If they don’t work, burn them. If they do, give them to the medical people who are desperately in need of them. It’s not like lots of people are flying right now anyway.

  10. There is a paucity if evidence that TSA even needs these kinds of masks. N95 masks are need for places where the virus can be aerosolized, like intubation or other life-saving measures, not rummaging through people’s’ bags and wanding people. But once again the science takes a backseat to the sensational.

  11. When my fellow healthcare workers are all ill and there’s no one to care for patients what will they do then? I guess the TSA can step in. My hospital has over 60 employees out I’ll and it’s only getting worse. We can’t stay healthy with the handmade masks we have. They need to go to healthcare.

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