If there's anyone who understands the kind of protection a mask affords, it is a hockey goaltender.
When the NHL first started, there were no goalie masks and over the years players like former Red Wings Terry Sawchuk needed more than 400 stitches on his face before he finally started wearing a minimal type of mask in 1962.
So when current Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard heard about the need for more personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly figured out what he and his Jimmy Howard Foundation could do.
"I saw how Dylan (Larkin) did gloves so I was like, you know what, me and my foundation will step up and do the masks," Howard said in a phone interview. "I'm not watching the news as much as I used to when this first started out. But seeing the conditions that these first responders have to work in, basically re-using medical supplies, we figured that would be a great way for us to help out."
Usually the Jimmy Howard Foundation works to support families with the costs and effects of life-threatening illnesses and funding research to find cures for various diseases, so this was a bit of a departure.
"It still goes hand in hand," Howard said. "I think you can see throughout the course of the world right now, people are stepping up in their own unique ways how to help out. It's great to see."
Howard said seeing his teammates give back to the community served as an inspiration for him.
"I was really influenced by Dylan and Justin (Abdelkader) and Sam Gagner, the list goes on," Howard said. "Guys stepped up to the plate and contributed. I wanted to do something unique, I wanted to do something that was close to my position and doing the masks was what we decided to do with the person who helps me run my foundation.
"It just took forever to find the masks. So that was the biggest hurdle for us was finding the masks and getting them to Detroit Medical Center. You can't just send any type of mask."
The front line health care workers require N95 masks, which are particulate-filtering face-covering respirators that meet national guidelines for filtering at least 95 percent of airborne particles, essential for protection from an infectious disease like the novel coronavirus.
So Howard directed his foundation to purchase $50,000 worth of N95 masks, which they eventually found through Fusion Surgical Solutions out of Pennsylvania.
The masks were delivered to the Detroit Medical Center this past Monday.
"The Detroit Medical Center is overwhelmed by this incredible donation of personal protective equipment to protect our health care heroes and the people of Detroit," said Audrey Gregory, PhD, RN, Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Medical Center. "This is a testament to the relentless commitment to our community by the Detroit Red Wings and Jimmy Howard, and we could not be more grateful."
Howard and the rest of the Wings have a long relationship with the Detroit Medical Center and he was happy to be able to help some of the health care workers he has known for a long time.
"Been going there for 13 years, somewhere around there, ever since doing the first Christmas stop at the Children's Hospital," Howard said. "Been going there a lot and it's just nice to be able to help out people in need."
Howard was also happy to join with his teammates a couple of weeks ago in supporting Feed the Front Lines Detroit, mayor Mike Duggan's program to feed health care workers while using local Detroit restaurants.
Many of those meals also went to the Detroit Medical Center.
"It's important, as us individuals, but also as a team to step up and show the city that we're there for them," Howard said. "Every night we're out there competing, they're cheering us on.
"There's probably always a lot of first responders in the crowd watching us so for us to be able to help out individually but also as a team, it makes a huge impact on the community."