Federal courts search for medical supplies to donate in COVID-19 fight

Federal courts in Indiana and nationwide joined a search for surplus medical supplies that could aid local hospitals in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic after two Florida district courts discovered and donated stockpiles of urgently needed protective gear.

On Wednesday, James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, urged all federal courts, federal public defenders’ offices, and probation and pretrial services offices to look for safety supplies and donate them to hospitals if they are not required for staff and officer safety needs.

The nationwide call was prompted after employees in the Northern District of Florida found 1,200 N95 respirator masks in their three courthouses, after staff recalled the masks had been acquired more than a decade earlier to protect employees from possible anthrax attacks.

At the direction of Chief Judge Mark Walker, the masks were immediately donated to five area hospitals, the U.S. Courts announced in a statement.

“It was important for us to do our part, on behalf of the judiciary, to support the communities we serve and the medical professionals who are so desperately in need of supplies,” said Jessica Lyublanovits, clerk of court for the Northern District of Florida. “Nothing reinforced how important our donation was than having the lab director for one of the hospitals break down in tears as the masks were delivered.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, N95 masks are especially critical to the medical profession because they seal tightly against the face and filter out 95 percent of airborne particles. The N95 masks have a recommended shelf life, but the CDC said that in emergency scenarios, older masks often remain appropriate for many medical uses.

“The masks have been in our mail rooms and supply closets across the district for many years as part of our emergency preparedness supplies,” Lyublanovits said. “As public servants, we all independently recognized that this was the right thing to do, even though our donation was small when compared to the overall number of masks needed by our health-care professionals.”

Other courts have taken up the search for extra supplies, like the Middle District of Florida, which found and donated 300 masks and more than 2,000 pairs of protective gloves. Additional courts have taken similar steps, like the District of Massachusetts, which will be giving away two boxes of protective gloves originally purchased to wipe down surfaces that might have been contaminated by coronavirus.

The search effort is “an example of one small way the federal Judiciary can help the greater cause of fighting this deadly virus,” Duff said in a statement.

Robert Trgovich, clerk of court for the Northern District of Indiana, said after conducting a search of its inventory, the Northern District Court does not have an excess of protective items to donate.

Similarly, the Southern District Court of Indiana does not have a stockpile of protective gear to donate, and “its limited inventory is needed for the protections of all individuals involved in continued operations,” said the court’s public information officer, Doria Lynch.

To protect its employees, the Southern District court has access to an adequate number of N95 masks and gloves to support on-site operational needs, Lynch said, such as providing masks to members of court staff who may develop symptoms while working on-site and gloves for those handling incoming mail.

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