McDonald's to donate 1 million N95 masks to Illinois health care workers

©Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — McDonald’s plans to donate 1 million N95 masks to health care workers in Chicago and Illinois as concerns mount that hospitals will run out of safety gear to protect those on the front lines fighting COVID-19.

The Chicago-based fast-food giant said it came across and purchased the stash of coveted N95 masks as it searched for nonmedical-grade masks to distribute to McDonald’s workers nationwide. The company plans to donate 750,000 of them to the city of Chicago and 250,000 to the state of Illinois.

Local and state authorities across the country have been hunting for N95 masks amid reports that hospital workers are reusing them for days to preserve a dwindling supply. Unlike regular, loose-fitting surgical masks, which help prevent the wearer’s respiratory emissions from getting out, tight-fitting N95 respirators form a seal around the nose and mouth and block airborne particles from getting in.

McDonald’s did not provide details about where it obtained the masks but said it has been coordinating with its global network of suppliers to help local communities in numerous ways. The company previously donated $1 million and 400,000 KF94 masks, the Korean equivalent of N95s, to Illinois’ COVID-19 relief fund.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, in a statement, said he was grateful for the company’s contribution of masks “as we continue to track down every piece of protective gear we can find for the brave health care workers and first responders fighting COVID-19.”

Pritzker has pressed the White House for help in securing personal protective equipment and ventilators as the state dips into its stockpile, and last week he said a recent shipment of masks from the federal government didn’t contain the 300,000 N95s he requested, but basic surgical masks.

Other companies also have stepped up to help the N95 mask cause, to varying degrees. Goldman Sachs said it has donated 600,000 N95 masks that it had accumulated in the wake of previous flu epidemics, Mastercard committed 25,000 and Nasdaq pledged 12,000, though those efforts targeted hospitals in the New York City area. Facebook said it donated 750,000 masks it obtained in preparation for more California wildfires. And Washington, D.C.-area hospitals got 5,000 masks that had been stashed in the crypt in the National Cathedral.

McDonald’s mask find came as the company sought additional protection for its own workers that continue to serve the public amid the coronavirus pandemic. Most McDonald’s restaurants remain open for drive-thru, takeout and delivery, and the company has been criticized by some for not doing enough to keep its workers or the public from getting sick.

Infrared thermometers are in the process of being shipped to its restaurants across the country so that workers can undergo temperature checks when they clock in, Dave Tovar, vice president of U.S. communications, said Friday. The thermometers will arrive first in markets authorities have designated as hot zones for the virus — New York City, Seattle and San Francisco — and will roll out nationally as supplies become available. Chicago is not currently considered a hot spot.

The company also is sending surgical masks to restaurants across the country for workers to wear if they wish, prioritizing hot zones. The thermometers and masks will be sent to franchises as well as company-owned stores, Tovar said. More than 90% of McDonald’s nearly 14,000 U.S. restaurants are franchises.

McDonald’s last week also announced workers will undergo wellness checks at the start of their shifts in which they are asked a series of questions about their health. Workers will be permitted to wear gloves, which the company had previously advised against because guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said washing hands is better, Tovar said.

“Our positions on a lot of this has evolved over the last couple of weeks,” Tovar said. “We are listening to employees, we are listening to public health community for guidance.”

Employees at a Los Angeles McDonald’s went on strike Sunday after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, calling for a two-week quarantine period with full pay. Other strikes took place last week in Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis; and Tampa, Florida, to demand personal protective equipment, hazard pay and paid sick leave, according to organizers with the Fight for $15, a movement to organize fast-food workers.

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