COVID-19 response

Major Austin employer donating 9 million masks in fight against COVID-19

Big Austin employer donating 9 million masks in fight against COVID-19

Apple factory Austin
Apple is donating 9 million masks in the fight against COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Apple

Last week, Apple, one of Austin’s largest employers, announced it would donate millions of protective masks for healthcare workers who are combating the coronavirus. Now, we know just how many the tech giant is contributing.

At a March 24 coronavirus briefing at the White House, Vice President Mike Pence praised Apple for contributing 9 million N95 masks, or respirators, for healthcare workers in the U.S. Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, said he’d spoken earlier in the day with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple is tapping into its supply of N95 masks, Pence said, and is giving 9 million of them to healthcare providers and to the national stockpile of so-called “protective personal equipment.”

Later that evening, during a coronavirus town hall broadcast by Fox News, Pence said 6 million of Apple’s disposable masks would go to the stockpile, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and 3 million would be distributed to the states.

“It’s inspiring the way businesses are donating these supplies to our hospitals, and we need them to keep it coming,” Pence said during the town hall.

Apple, based in Silicon Valley, reigns as one of the largest employers in Austin. It employs about 7,000 people at its campus in Northwest Austin and is building a $1 billion second campus nearby that ultimately will house 15,000 people.

In a March 21 tweet, Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company was donating “millions” of masks for healthcare workers in the U.S. and Europe but didn’t specify the number. “To every one of the heroes on the front lines, we thank you,” Cook wrote.

MarketWatch reports that Apple apparently had the masks on hand for its employees following years of massive wildfires in California.

Media representatives at Apple couldn’t be reached for comment.

An N95 mask reduces the wearer’s exposure to respiratory droplets — produced by coughing or sneezing — that carry the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These tight-fitting respirators filter out at least 95 percent of particles in the air, including droplet-borne viruses.

Typical face masks, on the other hand, are loose-fitting and provide minimal protection against droplets infected with the coronavirus, the CDC says.

In the U.S. and many other countries, healthcare workers have been decrying the lack of N95 respirators.