From left: PJIA Executive Consultant Emile van der Weerd, PJIA CEO Brian Mingo, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and PJIA Safety and Security Officer Connally Connor.
The KLM flight that transported the face masks to St. Maarten.
AIRPORT--Out of the 8,000 N95 protective face masks secured by Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA), airport officials have donated 5,000 to government, to be used by St. Maarten medical personnel.
“While doctors and nurses globally continue to complain about the chronic shortage of protective masks, similar shortages at health care facilities on the island will soon be wiped out,” said PJIA in a press release on Thursday morning.
According to PJIA operating company PJIAE chief executive officer (CEO) Brian Mingo, the protective masks were obtained with the help of counterpart officials at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. The specialised protective masks were ordered by PJIA more than six weeks ago, when the airport began to make its own contingency plans in the event of a worsening situation regarding the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
“Somehow our order of protective masks was delayed because of the worldwide shortage, but when we explained the dire situation that our own medical teams in St. Maarten were finding themselves in with a shortage of masks, Schiphol did the generous thing and filled part of our order from their own needed supplies,” said Mingo.
Royal Dutch Airlines KLM transported the 8,000 masks to St. Maarten on board a passenger-empty flight on Monday. The remaining 3,000 masks will be used by PJIA employees. This is especially important in areas where passengers are.
Prime Minister and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Chairperson Silveria Jacobs visited the airport on Wednesday, March 25, to accept the donation on behalf of government.
Mingo said he was “most grateful” to Schiphol Airport, not only as a corporate partner to PJIA but also “as a supportive company, assisting another company where it can.” He appealed to other companies in St. Maarten to follow this example of assisting each other to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
“It is in the best interest of all of us to work together as one by following the instructions of the prime minister and government and most of all … by practising social distancing, washing of hands and keeping hands away from our faces,” said Mingo.
He also said medical teams currently on the frontline – treating sick patients and keeping the virus at bay in the isolation units – are deserving of any help they can get.
“It is possible for some persons to work from home or remain at home and not be exposed, but there are also those persons who, due to the nature of their work, have to be out every day and are facing the risk of infection every day and are also putting their loved ones and families at risk as a result. Anything we can do to help minimise the risk for them is not just good corporate citizenship, but just good sense,” said Mingo.
Jacobs recognised the airport as a key stakeholder in Emergency Support Function 10 (ESF 10), along with Port St. Maarten.
“PJIA has worked towards implementing measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and I thank them for their close cooperation. The government of St. Maarten is appreciative of the 5,000 masks that arrived from Schiphol. This is one of PJIA’s best gestures despite their great cooperation thus far, seeing these trying times,” she said.
Jacobs encourages other businesses to exercise social responsibility and explore how they can contribute in the community or via government. “We need all hands on deck,” she said.
Mingo said the shipment of face masks also came through the persistent work of PJIA Safety and Security Officer Connally Connor and PJIA Executive Consultant Emile van der Weerd. They “did not give up in their attempts to locate the specially-designed masks when they were told time and again that none were presently available,” according to Mingo.
Connor is also head of the COVID-19 Task Force at the airport that was initiated in mid-February.
Mingo said that, with the assistance of Connor and his team, various protocols have been put into place at the airport to protect personnel and visitors.
“We recently walked the prime minister and other government officials through these protocols that we have put in place and she was satisfied that we are taking all the necessary precautionary steps we can to help contain the spread of the virus, at least from this port of entry,” he said.
These protocols include installing an isolation unit and 12 new hand-sanitising stations.
Van der Weerd said the donation is “a call to action for other companies on the island to play their part … in a combined effort to contain COVID-19.”
“We are already seeing how hospitals and other medical facilities worldwide can quickly become swamped through lack of resources to accommodate large numbers of infections in the community. Therefore, we have to be especially careful to follow government guidelines and protocols together in a concerted way,” he said.
Van der Weerd said Mingo’s efforts to secure the masks “should also not be understated.”
“[Mingo – Ed.] was dogged in his determination and motivated us to find a way when it appeared that no way could be found, to have them delivered to St. Maarten this week,” said Van der Weerd.
“In the end we are all in this together. If we can all do our part to keep the spread to a minimum, we can quicker recover and rebuild our airport, our economy and our St. Maarten,” said Mingo.