California law explains Apple’s abundance of N95 ventilator masks

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Apple's donation of N95 ventilator masks came from a stock pile mandated by the state of California during the recent wildfire outbreak.
Photo: Blue Shield of California

Following Saturday and Tuesdays’ announcements of Apple donating more than nine million N95 ventilator masks to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, the obvious question arises, why did Apple have so many masks? It now appears the answer was a simple one…A state mandate, instituted last year, to protect employees following the recent California wildfires.

CNBC reported Wednesday that executives of both Apple and Facebook (who also contributed 700,00 masks, though not all of them are N95) confirmed they had them in storage as a result of the 2019 wildfires in California and were required to have them by state law.

In 2019, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board adopted a regulation forcing employers to provide respiratory equipment, including N95 masks, for workers when the Air Quality Index reached unhealthy levels.

“Surgical masks or items worn over the nose and mouth such as scarves, T-shirts, and bandannas will not provide protection against wildfire smoke,” the rule said. “An N95 filtering facepiece respirator, shown in the image below, is the minimum level of protection for wildfire smoke.”

With Apple Park in Cupertino, California able to house some 12,000 employees, it’s not exactly clear why Apple procured nine million of the masks. An Apple spokesperson has not responded to a request for comment made Tuesday by Cult of Mac.

There were over 7,860 fires during the 2019 California wildfire season, totaling more than an estimated 259,800 acres of burned land.

Apple donations add up

Masks are in short supply worldwide as the coronavirus spreads and healthworkers are in need of items to care for the sick.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced Tuesday that Apple has donated nine million N95 respirator masks.

Pence said, “Apple went to their storehouses and is donating nine million N95 masks to healthcare facilities all across the country and to the national stockpile. There is a level of generosity that I know is inspiring to the president and is truly inspiring to all of us who are working on the White House coronavirus task force.”

Apple also donated two million industrial respiratory masks to help health-care workers last Saturday. Cook confirmed on Twitter then that the company had been working behind the scenes to find supplies of masks for healthcare workers in both the U.S. and Europe.

Pence called on other companies Saturday to step up and follow suit with more physical donations. He said he was optimistic about the supply of masks and said clothing-maker Hanesbrands is retrofitting some of its factories to manufacturer masks.

“It’s a great time to go to your storeroom, and if you have N95 masks, if you’ve got 100 of them, if you’ve got 10,000 of them, load them up and drive them over to your local hospital,” Pence said March 21. Worldwide there are over 454,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with more than 20,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., there are over 61,100 confirmed cases and 850 deaths.