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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: A woman reaches for a box of N95 masks at a Target in West Seattle. Reporter Ann Dornfeld took this photo on Friday, March 20, when she was at Target to buy toilet paper. Dornfeld said she was disturbed that Target was selling masks while they were being rationed at hospitals.
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A woman reaches for a box of N95 masks at a Target in West Seattle. Reporter Ann Dornfeld took this photo on Friday, March 20, when she was at Target to buy toilet paper. Dornfeld said she was disturbed that Target was selling masks while they were being rationed at hospitals.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld

N95 masks spotted at Target in Seattle, and politicians swoop in to divert them to hospitals

When reporter Ann Dornfeld went to Target in West Seattle on Saturday morning to buy toilet paper, she was shocked to see rows of N95 protective masks for sale -- $6.79 for two.

“Why are women hunched over sewing machines all over the country so Target can sell masks to people who neither need them nor know how to use them properly?” Dornfeld asked her colleagues in an online newsroom chat.

Dornfeld, who reports for KUOW, knew that N95 masks are being rationed at area hospitals, and that health providers are washing them with bleach between patients. Hospitals are all but begging people to turn over masks they may have sitting idly in pantries and garages, left over from paint projects or when Seattle was engulfed with wildfire smoke.

Hospitals are also turning to community seamstresses to make N95 masks out of materials the hospitals have supplied. Dornfeld’s mother is among those seamstresses, ready to start sewing masks for Providence in Renton.

Another KUOW reporter, Ashley Hiruko, called the Target store for answers. “Honestly, logistically speaking, they just show up on a truck from the distribution center,” said a worker named Brian. He said he didn’t know where the masks came from.

Dornfeld returned to her car with toilet paper, but was so disturbed she decided to go back in and take a photo. She posted the photo to Twitter and drove home.

Seeing Dornfeld’s tweet, Lindsey Grad, a lobbyist for SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW, and therefore painfully aware of the shortages, bee-lined to the Target for a one-woman sit-in.

“I’m here at Target trying to buy these masks for hospital use,” Grad wrote on Twitter. “While they have placed them out by the cash registers to encourage individual purchases, they will not let me buy the lot to divert to hospitals.”

(Brian, the Target worker, confirmed someone at the store was agitating about the masks.)

Public officials at every level – Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, County Executive Dow Constantine, Gov. Jay Inlsee – took note and by 1:30 p.m. the masks were off those shelves.

Durkan's office had called Target corporate and asked them to pull the masks for the shelves. Target agreed immediately to donate the masks.

Inslee tweeted: “We heard reports that a Target in Seattle was selling n95 masks. My staff and others stepped in. Those masks are now on their way to the health care workers who desperately need them.”

Target apologized.

On Twitter, the retail giant wrote: “Today in select Seattle stores, N95 masks were available for purchase in error. We’re removing & donating them to the WA State Dept. of Health. We’re also reviewing inventory for additional masks to be donated. Target’s commitment to communities is unwavering & we apologize.”