Suffolk County officials received 50,000 surgical masks Tuesday from the Taiwanese government to help frontline workers continue fighting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s probably the biggest donation we’ve had from the beginning of this crisis,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said after accepting the masks at the county’s Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services donation drop-off location in Yaphank.
Officials said the masks will be distributed to hospitals, first-responder agencies and nursing homes, adding the county has delivered more than 5.8 million pieces of personal protective equipment to essential workers.
“These supplies will go out to all of those agencies that continue to burn through them,” Bellone said. “This is an ongoing event. And we have to continue to supply to the front-line workers who need them.”
The donation is part of an ongoing outreach effort from Taiwan, which has donated about 6 million medical masks to the United States, according to officials at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York.
Ambassador Lily Hsu, the agency’s director-general who delivered the boxes of masks Tuesday along with her staff, said Taiwan had expected to be hit hard by the pandemic due to its proximity to China, where the outbreak originated.
“But because of our lessons learned during [SARS in 2003], we prepared ourselves for this pandemic,” Hsu said, referring to the outbreak that infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and resulted in 774 deaths. “So far, we have managed to control the pandemic relatively well.”
With a population of nearly 24 million, Taiwan has recorded a total of 443 cases and seven deaths since its first case was reported on Jan. 21, according to the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.
From very early on, Hsu said Taiwan ramped up its mask production and implemented measures of contact tracing, testing and border control.
“At first, the government had to stop exporting the masks to provide our own supply,” she said. “But now we have the capacity to export but also [to] make the donation.”
Ming Chiang, a Woodbury businessman who helped facilitate the mask donation, said he plans to make a $10,000 donation to the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank.
Given “what’s happening with COVID-19 impacting all our county offices, I’m sure we are going to be facing a significant budget shortfall,” said Chiang, who owns a furniture distribution warehouse in Amityville. “The fire academy is a very integral part of Long Island’s function. We need a place to continue to train our firefighters.”