California Department of Public Health N95 mask

An N95 respirator mask is shown in a photo from the California Department of Public Health Facebook page. Hundreds of thousands of N95 masks distributed this week by the state agency to Marian Regional Medical Center and Cottage Health hospitals in Santa Barbara County were discovered to be unusable due to degraded plastic straps.

More than 350,000 N95 masks distributed this week to Marian Regional Medical Center and Cottage Health hospitals in Santa Barbara County were discovered to be unusable due to degraded plastic straps, officials from both hospitals reported.

N95s, which differ from cloth masks in their ability to filter out air particles as the wearer breathes, must be strapped tightly onto the face to ensure full effectiveness.

The donations came from the emergency supplies cache of the California Department of Public Health as part of a standard emergency response request, County Public Health Department officials said. 

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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in early March that some masks distributed by the state are past their use-by date, and advised hospitals to use expired masks donated by the state for non-COVID-19 patients and conserve their supply of fully effective masks for potential contact with the virus.

However, the Governor's Office also stated that N95 masks in the emergency cache were kept in climate-controlled conditions that would prevent the deterioration of plastic straps.

A total of 200,000 masks were given to Cottage Health, and 175,000 were given to Marian, hospital officials said.

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Cottage Health and Marian officials now are contacting manufacturers about replacing the broken straps, and will continue with their current supply in the meantime, officials said.

"Some, if not all, are unusable," Marian spokeswoman Megan Maloney said of the 175,000 masks.

Dignity Health has insisted that Marian possesses enough masks and other personal protective equipment for the rate of coronavirus cases at this time. 

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Cottage Health has reported rapidly growing daily use of N95 masks among its hospitals in Goleta, Solvang and Santa Barbara, with the most recent update on March 23 stating the hospitals were using 500 N95 masks per day and rates were expected to increase.

Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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