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$7 million of PPE left outside and damaged by storms at Bay Area county facility

Medical workers in full-body protective gear around a car at a drive-through testing site
A car drives through a coronavirus testing site at the San Mateo County Event Center in March 2020. The county later stored millions of dollars’ worth of surplus PPE outside the facility after demand for the equipment fell.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Officials in San Mateo County are investigating how millions of dollars’ worth of personal protective equipment was left outside, apparently forgotten, for months before being damaged by storms late last year.

According to a statement Friday by Mike Callagy, the county manager, officials purchased the supplies in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic “when no one knew how long global supply shortages would last and jurisdictions nationwide were competing to purchase safety equipment … to protect first responders and communities.”

As supply chain issues subsided and hospital-grade equipment became easier to find, demand for the county’s equipment fell, Callagy said.

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County officials worked with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services for months to offer the PPE and other material to healthcare providers, schools, other agencies and other states free of charge, he said.

“But few accepted the offer because sizes, quantities, other considerations made them less appropriate,” Callagy said.

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we can be optimistic. But we can’t let our guard down.

Surplus PPE and cleaning supplies were moved outside the San Mateo County Event Center in mid-September to make room for an event, he said.

The supplies were damaged by subsequent storms, Callagy said, adding that the items should have been moved back inside once the event was over.

“The county is solely responsible for our materials at the event center,” he said. “We deeply regret that this occurred and are hiring an external investigator to identify all facts related to the damage and make recommendations to avoid future incidents.”

Most of the supplies included non-medical-grade isolation gowns, face shields, goggles, some sterile gowns and miscellaneous cleaning supplies such as bleach, mop buckets and handles, Callagy said. Their estimated value is $7 million.

“While the storms damaged some outside packaging, most of the supplies are individually wrapped,” he said. “The county is actively inspecting and cleaning the materials with plans to donate undamaged goods to a nonprofit.”

L.A. reports 39 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday and 45 on Thursday. Delta, not Omicron, is likely to blame, officials say.

Pieces of high-grade PPE such as gloves and masks — including N95 and KN95 respirators — were stored indoors at county warehouses and not damaged, Callagy said.

“We want to assure our community that this incident did not impact the county’s ability to provide safety equipment to first responders and others responding to COVID-19,” he said.

The story was first reported by KGO-TV Channel 7 after a reporter got a tip about the equipment left outside in the rain.

Upon visiting the event center, the reporter found thousands of boxes of equipment had been soaked, according to the station. Some had broken open and spilled their contents.

Callagy, who spoke with the station, said he didn’t know about the situation until he was contacted by the reporter.


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