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New England Patriots’ team plane used to transport N95 masks

Health policy and the NFL are two of my favorite topics. Very rarely do the two coverage in such a way that I could write about them on the Locker Room Blog. But during a time as strange as the current one, an opportunity has presented itself.

Americans following the coronavirus pandemic will know how important the personal protective gear is to the health care workers on the frontlines. Masks, gowns, and gloves are critically important for keeping providers virus-free while they are treating Americans who require care. However, many cities and hospitals do not have enough protective gear. The fact that each state in the country and countries around the world are also trying to get the same equipment makes it that much harder.

Stories of Americans in the private sector who have stepped up to aid the country-wide response have popped up all over the country. Yet, the Wall Street Journal may have reported the most unique one: the New England Patriots used their team plane to deliver N95 masks from China to Massachusetts,

At 3:38 a.m. Wednesday morning, the New England Patriots’ team plane departed from an unusual locale: Shenzhen, China. On board the Boeing 767, in the cargo hold that used to be home to Tom Brady’s duffel bags, were 1.2 million N95 masks bound for the U.S.

How did the Patriots team plane end up becoming the transport for these masks?

The effort began with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who was concerned about the state’s mask supply and, two weeks ago, believed he had struck a deal to acquire more than a million of them from a collection of Chinese manufacturers. But officials had to figure out how to get them shipped out of China at a time when unusual cargo shipments out of the country can be especially tricky.

“I just have to get them here,” he told a longtime friend.

That longtime friend was Jonathan Kraft, Robert Kraft’s son, who holds two jobs that became highly relevant to the proceedings. Jonathan Kraft is the chairman of the board at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the country’s most renowned facilities. He’s also the Patriots’ president, and the team had something it thought might be of help: a giant airplane.

The rest of the story is pretty incredible. Here is another excerpt:

The primary issue was the simplest: getting the right to land the 767. Gov. Baker, the U.S. State Department, Robert Kraft and others sent letters to China’s counsel general in New York requesting the special permits. The letters, dated March 24 to 30, ask for waivers to allow the humanitarian mission and state that no member of the crew would leave the aircraft.

By last Friday night, the crew had moved to Wilmington, Ohio, because the plane needed an avionics upgrade for the international trip. The mission received waivers from China to land and do so without quarantining—nobody would be on board besides the necessary flight crew—but they were told the crew still needed visas. So the entire group scrambled to a local pharmacy and took pictures for the application. The pictures were flown to New York to be taken to the Chinese consulate, and then flown back to Ohio. Huang Ping, China’s counsel general in New York, proved to be a major ally in the effort and get the rush jobs done, including by opening the consulate over the weekend to get the visas processed in time, people familiar with the matter said.

Next, the plane headed to Alaska. The only breaks the crew took from then on were for mandatory rest and downtime. As a precaution, the crew included maintenance people and spare parts so they could solve any potential issues in China without people on the ground.

I encourage everyone to read the whole article. It’s a reminder that no matter what our individual means are, we all have a role to play in helping our neighbors during this difficult time. I’ll end this post with a quote from the story by Mr. Kraft: “In today’s world, those of us who are fortunate to make a difference have a significant responsibility to do so with all the assets we have available to us.”

Jordan Roberts / Health Policy Analyst

Jordan joined the Locke Foundation in the summer of 2018 as Health Care Policy Analyst. He analyzes state and national health policy issues with an eye toward removing governm...

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