New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is taking action to support health care workers in Massachusetts and New York amid the coronavirus crisis.
Kraft purchased more than 1.7 million N95 masks and used the Patriots' team plane to fly the critical supplies from China to Boston overnight in order to help hospitals in both states combat the ongoing, nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“It is an honor for our family to be a part of this humanitarian mission. We knew that purchasing greatly-needed N95 masks and providing the Patriots plane to expedite their delivery to local hospitals would immediately help protect our courageous healthcare professionals," Kraft said in a statement. "I truly hope that in doing so, we can in some way inspire others to find creative ways to give more in support of our doctors, nurses and first responders. It’s nice to care for those who provide such compassionate care for us.”
The Patriots posted a picture to Instagram of supplies being loaded onto the team plane, calling it, "our most important flight."
"We're going through something very unique and difficult," Kraft said Thursday in an interview with NBC New York. "We will get through this together."
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said on Twitter the plane, which landed at Boston Logan International Airport around 6 p.m. Thursday, would deliver over a million masks to health care workers throughout the commonwealth who are on the front lines of the battle against the novel coronavirus, which has already sickened thousands in the state.
"This is a moment that, for the past few weeks, the lieutenant governor and I hoped we'd be here to celebrate, but never knew if it would really happen or not," an emotional Baker said at a news conference at the airport after the plane landed.
Earlier, Baker thanked the Kraft family in a tweet, posting a photo of workers in masks and full-body suits preparing to load boxes onto the plane emblazoned with the Patriots logo.
"No days off," Baker tweeted, referencing the Patriots' well-known motto.
Baker also thanked Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy Thursday evening for his role in getting the plane to China and back.
The Patriots in their Instagram post said the delivery of the supplies from China to Massachusetts was made possible "thanks to a true team effort."
Multiple organizations across the public and private sectors, all of which were in lockstep with Gov. Baker’s leadership, worked together to execute this mission with the purpose of helping save lives.
It was Gov. Baker who originally reached out to the Kraft family to discuss collaborative ways to acquire and deliver equipment in an effort to replenish the inventory of PPE at Bay State hospitals.
In a separate statement Thursday, Baker highlighted the importance of PPE in the fight against the coronavirus.
“Ordering vital equipment like this is only one part of the challenge and I am incredibly grateful that the Kraft's worked this issue relentlessly alongside our Command Center staff to get these critical supplies to Massachusetts," he said. “The Kraft's, our partners Ambassador Huang Ping, Dr. Jason Li, Gene Hartigan and our Covid-19 Command Center personnel teamed up to get this job done and we eagerly await the plane landing at Logan Airport soon."
One of the state's most well-known hospitals expressed its gratitude on Twitter, with Massachusetts General Hospital saying in a tweet, "A huge thank you to the Kraft family and the @patriots for helping to ensure health care workers across the commonwealth have enough N95 masks to treat #COVID19 patients. We are all patriots."
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh echoed that popular Patriot saying, thanking the Kraft family in a tweet of his own Thursday.
"The NE @Patriots deliver another big win by helping to supply our frontline workers with over 1 million N95 masks," he said. "Thank you to the Kraft family for this incredible act of generosity and showing us during difficult times that 'We are all Patriots.'"
In addition to purchasing 1.4 million masks for Massachusetts hospitals, Kraft also purchased an additional 300,000 N95 masks to provide aid to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who the NFL owner respects and admires for his leadership skills.
That portion of the supplies will be transported Friday morning from Boston to New York, which has reported more COVID-19 cases than China's Hubei province, where the pandemic started more than three months ago. In New York, many on the front lines are getting infected, and some have already died. To date, nearly 120,000 in the tri-state area have tested positive for the virus, with more than 2,800 deaths, including first responders.
Transporting the 1.7 million masks to Boston and New York was no small feat, requiring the cooperation of an ambassador, two nations, three governors, one of the world’s largest companies and the Kraft family and its AirKraft.
Politico and the Wall Street Journal were first to report the news.
The Patriots' plane departed from Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport in China at 3:38 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Journal.
Gov. Baker will be on hand with Kraft and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito to greet the Boeing 767 when it arrives in Boston, sources told Politico.
The National Guard will then transport the PPE to a stockpile in Marlboro, a person familiar with the plans told Politico.
Baker has said for weeks that health care workers on the front lines of the outbreak in the commonwealth are in desperate need of more protective equipment. According to Baker, he has pleaded with the federal government to send more, only to be outbid by the federal government.
When the Republican governor was asked at a press conference Wednesday about protective equipment, Baker did not say much but hinted at an announcement planned for Thursday.
"I think we're gonna have a lot more to say about gear tomorrow," Baker said Wednesday. "I'm gonna leave it at that."
"We've been working on a variety of processes and opportunities to make sure that we have the gear that we need to serve our medical community and our first responders," Baker continued. "I've also said that I expected to have more information on this later this week, and I do."
To date, there are 7,738 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, with the state Department of Public Health announcing more than a thousand of those cases on Wednesday. The number of fatalities in the state more than doubled over the past two days, with health officials announcing 33 new deaths from the virus on Wednesday, bringing the state total to 122.
State officials have converted the DCU Center in Worcester into a 250-bed field hospital in preparation for an influx of patients. The state is looking to open a second field hospital at the Boston Convention Center. Both locations would be used to help relieve pressure on traditional hospitals.
Massachusetts is expecting to run out of bed space, especially with COVID-19 cases expected to surge in the state sometime between April 7 and April 17, according to the latest models predicting the spread of the virus.
The Kraft family and the New England Patriots are encouraging all fans to join in their efforts to provide personal protective equipment to the brave doctors, nurses, health care workers and first responders who are fighting COVID-19 on the front lines. Through the remainder of April, 100 percent of donations to the Patriots Foundation will go directly to the purchase of these supplies. Donations can be made online at www.patriots.com/covid19.