San Mateo County officials are investigating how millions of dollars worth of personal protective equipment was left outside, seemingly forgotten, for months before being damaged by storms at the end of the last year.
According to a Friday statement from Mike Callagy, the county executive, officials purchased the supplies at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic “when no one knew how long global supply shortages would last and jurisdictions across the country competing to buy safety equipment…to protect first responders and communities.
As supply chain issues have eased and hospital-grade equipment has become easier to find, demand for county equipment has plummeted, Callagy said.
County officials worked with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services for months to provide free PPE and other materials to health care providers, schools, other agencies and other states, did he declare.
“But few took up the offer because the sizes, quantities and other considerations made them less appropriate,” Callagy said.
Excess PPE and cleaning supplies were moved outside the San Mateo County Event Center in mid-September to make room for an event, he said.
Supplies were damaged by the ensuing storms, Callagy said, adding that the items should have been brought inside once the event was over.
“The county is solely responsible for our material at the center of the event,” he said. “We deeply regret this has happened and are engaging an external investigator to identify all facts related to the damage and make recommendations to prevent future incidents.”
Most of the supplies included non-medical grade isolation gowns, face shields, goggles, some sterile gowns, and various cleaning supplies such as bleach, mop buckets and handles, a Callagy said. Their estimated value is $7 million.
“While the storms have damaged some outer packaging, most supplies are individually wrapped,” he said. “The county is actively inspecting and cleaning up materials with plans to donate undamaged property to a non-profit organization.”
High-quality PPE pieces such as gloves and masks — including N95 and KN95 respirators — were stored indoors in county warehouses and were undamaged, Callagy said.
“We want to assure our community that this incident has not impacted the county’s ability to provide safety equipment to first responders and other COVID-19 responders,” he said.
The story was first reported by KGO-TV Channel 7 after a reporter received a tip about equipment being left outside in the rain.
Visiting the center of the event, the reporter discovered that thousands of boxes of equipment had been soaked, according to the station. Some had broken and spilled their contents.
Callagy, who spoke to the station, said he was unaware of the situation until contacted by the reporter.
Los Angeles Times