Facebook donates 720,000 masks to US health workers fighting coronavirus

Mark Zuckerberg says the company had an "emergency reserve" due to the California wildfires.

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Sean Keane
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Facebook is donating its "emergency reserve" of masks to health workers.

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook is following Apple's lead by donating 720,000 masks to US health workers as they try to get the coronavirus outbreak under control, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote Sunday. His post noted that the social network is also trying to source "millions" more.

The company bought the masks in case the California wildfires continued, Zuckerberg said.

The new strain of coronavirus , which can develop into a respiratory illness known as COVID-19, was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. As of Monday morning, it had infected more than 343,000 people and caused over 14,000 deaths globally.

In a reply to Zuckerberg's post, a California-based respiratory therapist thanked the Facebook boss, saying she and her colleagues are on the front lines of the coronavirus response and "need to be protected" so they avoid falling ill while saving lives. 

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence praised Apple for pledging to donate 2 million masks and encouraged any businesses with masks to donate them.

"If you've got 100 of them, if you've got 10,000 of them," Pence said in Saturday's White House coronavirus briefing. "Load them up, drive them to your local hospital."

Also Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would be sending 1 million N95 masks to New York City. The following day, the city had nearly 17,000 confirmed cases.

As people isolate in an effort to curb the virus' spread, they're relying on social media to keep in touch -- data shared with CNET last week indicated that 70% more people are making group video calls using Facebook Messenger week over week. Messenger is also helping government health organizations and UN health agencies share accurate information about the health crisis, to push back against coronavirus-related hoaxes and conspiracy spreading on social networks.

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