ITHACA, N.Y. –– As supplies of medical face masks across the country become scarce due to the COVID-19 outbreak, one lab at Cornell is trying to do their part by donating spare N95 respirator masks to health care workers at Cayuga Medical Center.

An N95 respirator mask is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.

Brian VanderVen’s lab at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which studies tuberculosis, donated more than 600 masks to CMC, after finding they no longer needed them.

“Our routine experiments that are conducted in the lab require us to protect from infecting ourselves,” he said. “Very recently we’ve found an alternative to using the disposable masks and we no longer had a use for these masks.”

VanderVen said the lab had been stocking up on masks, fearing a shortage. In late February, public health officials asked the public to stop purchasing and hoarding masks to prevent a strain on the supply chain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirator masks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions, such as hand washing, to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.

John Turner, the vice president of public relations for Cayuga Health Systems said although the hospital is not experiencing a shortage yet, they are preparing for the possibility of one.

“The regular supplier is on backorder,” Turner said. “We were really fortunate to receive the masks.”

On Sunday, new visitation restrictions took effect at CMC, limiting visitors to the hospital and increasing the screening process in order to enter the building. Additionally, Turner said Cayuga Health Systems, is suspending all non-essential surgeries and procedures throughout their network –– a move that will soon be mandatory statewide according to an announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo Friday morning.

Cuomo, also announced that companies deemed non-essential are required to keep 100% of their workforces at home, essentially locking down the state, with the exception of gas stations, grocery stores, banks, warehouses and other businesses integral to the supply chain.

CMC is asking anyone who may have bought medical supplies in preparation for COVID-19 to donate those supplies to be utilized by health care professionals.

Specifically the hospital is looking for:

  • hand sanitizer
  • gowns
  • surgical masks
  • procedure masks
  • N95 masks
  • nitrile exam gloves

Photo courtesy via ehpien on flickr. 

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at