A shipment of 1.5 million surgical masks from China was delivered to Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport Sunday, via a Boeing 747-400 Dreamlifter cargo freighter jet from North Charleston.
China is where the COVID-19 coronavirus was first reported in late December. Since then and during the pandemic, travel from China to the U.S. has been highly restricted.
But because China still produces much-needed medical supplies, President Trump recently announced Boeing would be donating three of its Dreamlifter aircraft to deliver supplies to the U.S.
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Most of the protective masks will be distributed to Prisma Health system’s 18 hospitals, with 100,000 of them going to the Medical University of South Carolina near Boeing’s North Charleston manufacturing plant.
The masks will be used for all patients, employees and visitors.
“This is a great day for our state, for our country,” said Gov. Henry McMaster at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport Sunday, where the delivery was celebrated by elected officials and business leaders.
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The masks were purchased by Prisma Health in late March, but the health system was unable to quickly move the shipment out of China, according to Mark O’Halla, president and CEO of Prisma Health.
Then an unexpected turn of events happened.
Neil Ferrier of Discommon, a Greenville-based industrial design company, said he wanted to help. He knew of a trusted medical supply mask manufacturer in China, and contacted U.S. Rep. William Timmons, R-4th District.
Timmons linked Ferrier with O’Halla, and then turned to Boeing to plan the shipment and bypass delays.
“I did not think I’d be standing here five weeks later with a million and a half masks and the governor and our senators,” Timmons said Sunday. “It truly is a fantastic story of people coming together.”
Ferrier said the shipment is the first of more to come. O’Hara said the health system goes through 1.5 million masks each month.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he hopes the reliance on China for medical supplies will soon end.
“We’re here celebrating a shipment of masks coming from China on a Boeing jet,” Graham said. “Talk about a surreal moment.
“We don’t want to do this again,” Graham said. “We don’t want to ever have to rely on China or anyone else for our basic healthcare needs. This pandemic has been a wake-up call to America how much our supply chain on the medical side has gotten out of our control.
“In the fall, if this comes back, and it probably will, we’re going to be much better prepared and the medical supply chain is coming back to America.”
Ferrier said he’s already been in talks with a company in North Carolina that plans to ramp up its supply of protective masks.
Other dignitaries at Sunday’s event were U..S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina; Lindsey Leonard, senior director of government operations for Boeing; and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-3rd District.
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