A Los Angeles County initiative distributed 23 million units of free personal protective equipment to small business employees since last October, officials announced Thursday.

“During the peak of the crisis, Los Angeles County stepped in through a motion that I authored to ensure that our small businesses received essential PPE for their workers that safeguarded the health of workers and residents alike,” said L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis. “Thanks to these efforts, the county has continued to safely reopen throughout the course of the pandemic and PPE continues to serve as a pivotal tool in protecting the health of our residents.”

The county launched its PPE Unite program on Oct. 28, 2020 to provide free 30-day supplies to keep people safe at small businesses, nonprofits and social enterprises with 100 employees or less.

The PPE included 21.5 million masks, more than 400,000 face shields and over a million hand sanitizer bottles that were used to protect 433,000 employees at 30,000 small businesses and nonprofits. According to county officials, this effort saved the businesses about $5.6 million in public health compliance costs.

“At the height of this crisis, it was difficult for many small businesses to access reliable supplies of PPE, let alone afford the extra costs,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “It was important that the county do everything we could to get these lifesaving supplies to businesses that needed them to protect both their workers and their community.”

The PPE was distributed during pop-up events that were strategically placed to impact hard-to-reach communities that had been hard hit by the pandemic, according to officials, which added that 61% of the businesses helped were minority-owned and 42% were women-owned.

The top demographics served by PPE Unite are Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latino, Black and white; and the top industries are health care, social assistance, restaurants, hospitality, personal care services and educational services.

“As a startup, PPE Unite saved us a lot of overhead costs at a time when we needed to save money,” said Dr. Franklin Westhout, physician and owner of San Pedro Urgent Care.

Sanchin Sangani, administrator of Wonderland Preschool in Bellflower, said: “Because of PPE Unite, we kept our teachers and staff safe so we could care for and teach our young students during this pandemic.”

PPE Unite is a partnership between the county, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation and the L.A. Small Business Development Center.

Businesses and nonprofits can apply for free PPE at ppeunite.org.

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