New England Patriots plane brings back more than 1 million N95 masks from China

The New England Patriots are doing their part to help combat the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. 

Earlier this week, the team sent its jet to China, where it was loaded with 1.2 million N95 masks that are crucial "personal protective equipment" (PPE) necessary for medical workers to safely fight COVID-19, according to the Wall Street Journal. The plane and supplies are expected to return to Boston's Logan Airport on Thursday. 

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker secured 1.7 million masks through manufacturers in China, but did not have a way to transport them out of the country and to the U.S., the WSJ reported. That's when Patriots COO Jonathan Kraft, who is also a chairman of the board at Massachusetts General Hospital, had the idea to use the team plane. 

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The Patriots and government officials needed to overcome several bureaucratic and logistical obstacles. The plane remained grounded for less than three hours while the supplies were loaded. The crew did not exit the plane;  otherwise, they would have been forced to quarantine for 14 days upon entering China. Flight crew members needed expedited visas that were processed quickly through a cooperative Chinese consulate in New York. 

No days off. Thanks to some serious teamwork, Massachusetts is set to receive over 1 million N95 masks for our front-line workers. Huge thanks to the Krafts and several dedicated partners for making this happen. pic.twitter.com/ieV6XMC5Ow

“I’ve never seen so much red tape in so many ways and obstacles that we had to overcome,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the WSJ. “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.”

Kraft, Baker, the U.S. State Department and others wrote to the Chinese government and consulate between March 24 and March 30 to obtain permission to pick up the masks and the proper permits, the WSJ reported.

Of the 1.7 million masks ordered, only 1.2 million fit on the Boeing 767 designed to carry people, rather than cargo. The remainder will be shipped to the U.S. shortly. 

According to the WSJ, the Kraft family paid nearly $2 million — roughly half the cost — for the masks. 

New York, one of the epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., will receive 300,000 of the masks. The reserves will be held at a strategic stockpile in Marlboro, Massachusetts, according to Politico. As of Thursday morning, Massachusetts has 7,738 total cases and 122 deaths, according to The New York Times.

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