DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Good afternoon-- good Thursday afternoon. This is Danielle DiMartino Booth with Quill Intelligence. I am proud to be joined this afternoon by Ben Hunt of Epsilon Theory. But that's the last words that you're going to hear out of our mouths about who we are and what our day jobs are. Because something much more important has brought us together this afternoon to be with you.
Ben, welcome. It's so great to have you.
BEN HUNT: Thank you, Danielle. Wonderful to be here. And thanks to you, and thanks to Real Vision for supporting what we're doing here.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Absolutely. Let's jump right in. We've been tweeting about this. Our finest hour, Ben, what is our finest hour? Because right now it feels kind of dark out there. We just had the highest number of deaths in New York thus far. So what is our finest hour?
BEN HUNT: It does feel dark, Danielle. And I think, though, that what we are engaged in, for the first time in a long time, is a war here on the home front, here in our backyards, here in our neighborhoods, our cities, our states, and our nation.
And I like this slogan, "our finest hour." Obviously it comes from World War II, from Winston Churchill, when he was describing the home-front effort there in the UK during the early days of World War II. And it really struck me, because I do think-- this is also a Churchill quote-- that "war is a series of blunders."
Right? And Lord knows that's the way it is with the United States for sure, right? We're very slow to act. We make a lot of mistakes. But ultimately-- I believe this from the bottom of my heart-- there's no nation, no group of citizens who mobilizes for a war effort as effectively, with a bottom-up approach, better than the United States. So despite all the slow starts, all the blunders, all the mistakes we're making and we'll continue to make, I truly believe that when we look back at this in a year, two years, five years, 50 years, we will look back and say this was our finest hour.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So tell me-- I read a little bit of the history here. I understand that there are people out on the west coast involved with Intel. There are very good people also with Intel on the ground in China who are helping with procurement.
What on earth inspired you? Did you wake up in the middle of the night and say, I've got to get some masks and I've got to get them now? What put you on this path to making this actually happen, not just looking at the news and saying, this is really bad, but setting up an organization of this complexity just like that? What made you do this, Ben?
BEN HUNT: Well, I'd tell you, Danielle, you know, we all have our different ways of approaching the crisis, the war that we're fighting today. For me, it really started when I was doing some research on the data, the information that was coming out of China in let's call it late January, out of the city of Wuhan in particular and the province of Hubei more generally.
And what really struck me at the time was that the response to this virus, the war that was being fought, the front lines for this we're not a battlefield as we usually think about it. The front lines were the hospitals of Wuhan. And what you saw were the doctors, the nurses, the staff of these hospitals getting sick themselves. And so that the hospitals were no longer a place of healing, but were actually a place of infection.
And the ramifications of that led to what I think was the great loss of life that was suffered in the city of Wuhan. You know, we've seen the same thing in Italy as well, that when your health care system itself is overwhelmed-- I saw today that now over 100 Italian doctors have died from COVID-19 infection.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: And you've seen that famous picture of the nurse who's just-- her head's on a table, and she's just distraught.
BEN HUNT: And Danielle, those same stories, fortunately, so far without the loss of as much life-- but those same stories of desperation, of being overwhelmed, are happening here in the United States. And it's not just a Kirkland, Washington thing. It's not just a New York City thing. It's a New Orleans, Louisiana thing. It's a Birmingham, Alabama thing-- my old hometown. It's Atlanta, Georgia. It's all over the country. It's all over the world.
So our frontline heroes-- and they are heroes, let's make no mistake about that. And they are risking not only their own lives, but I'll tell you, this is something that I hear so often. And I don't know that people can really grasp at this because it's so momentous. What they're really scared of, these heroes fighting for us on the frontlines is not just themselves getting sick with a disease that literally turns your lungs into ground glass. What they're really scared about is bringing it home to their own families.
So I think it's a-- I hate to use these words or these terms, but I really think this is true-- it is our moral imperative to support the people who are fighting this war for us. That's what the motivation here is. And I'll describe the project in a bit more detail if I can. Because what we're really trying to do is a grassroots effort. This is a bottom-up effort to do what we can for our frontline heroes. We can't do anything about ventilators. We can't get involved in serological testing, or the test kits and the like. But you know what we can do? We can get basic personal protective equipment-- PPE-- armor, if you will, to our frontline heroes. That's what we're about right now.
So what I want to do-- I'm sorry, I'm getting this phone call here. That's the dilemma of live, right? Yeah.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: That's OK, Ben.
BEN HUNT: Yeah. So what we're trying to do is we're trying to do this grassroots effort where we are not competing with the massive efforts of buying PPE at the federal and the state level. We are not out there trying to buy a million masks from some supplier.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Sure.
BEN HUNT: But I'll tell you what we're also not doing, Danielle. We're also not waiting. We're not going to wait on the federal government or the state management authorities to buy these massive numbers of masks-- that's what we're particularly focused on, these N95 masks-- and then trickle them down to the front lines of people-- emergency responders, doctors, nurses, who are actually there fighting this war for us.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: EMT techs.
BEN HUNT: Absolutely. So it's EMTs, it's the fire departments. It's any emergency or first responder. It's any health care worker at the clinic level, at the individual fire department level.
What we're trying to do is we're trying to be that last mile of distribution, where we acquire-- and I'll talk about how we do it-- we acquire quantities of these N95 masks. That's our first focus. There'll be other, I'll say, supplies of PPE that we also want to try to get in the hands of these first responders. But we're starting with masks, because I think that's where the need is most pronounced. We are acquiring them, we're paying for them, but then crucially what we're also doing is we are distributing them. We are sending them directly to the ER department that needs some, directly to the RN at a hospital who can take these to her team.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: And in the event we can't put it up on the--
BEN HUNT: We're not able to give--
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Yeah, but just to clarify here, in the event can't get it up on the screen, there is a very simple form that can be filled out-- I mean, very simple.
BEN HUNT: Absolutely. So what we are doing in our outreach-- and this is why I'm so grateful for Real Vision for forgetting this message out there-- it's not only to help raise money for this effort, the 501(c)(3) that we've established to raise money for this effort, and to buy and distribute the equipment, we also have a website up-- and we've had over 600 health care professionals, first responders, get to us, tell us who they are and how to get masks to them. We have that form available as well. And absolutely I'll give you the information now so people can start putting this in.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Sure.
BEN HUNT: If you are that health care worker or first responder, or you know someone who is, this is how you can get that information to us and we will do what we can? We're not able to get, like I say, 5,000 masks to a hospital. But what we can absolutely do is get 50, 100, 200 masks to the people, the departments, the clinics that need it right now, that have that urgent need. That's what we're trying to do.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So Ben, how on earth are you making this happen? I mean, we're talking about halfway around the world and in a whole different time zone. And in some ways, with the country that some Americans view as being the enemy, how do you know these are good masks? I mean, there are a lot of questions that arise.
BEN HUNT: Yeah, there are a couple of good questions in there, Danielle. Let me save that question of-- I'll call it quality control for a second, because that is absolutely a crucial issue. And I want to spend some time talking about it. But let me describe the overall system that we've got here. Because what we really are trying to do is to provide this grassroots, bottom-up, end-to-end solution where we like to describe it as almost like an Underground Railroad of PPE.
And I really have to hand it to some of our colleagues at Intel who had this idea, frankly, of working with some of their colleagues. They're all doing this on their own time, out of their own pocket. This is not an official Intel thing for corporate purposes. These are just real people who are trying to make a difference.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: They're [INAUDIBLE].
BEN HUNT: Exactly, exactly. That's what I say we call it this Underground Railroad, where the Intel China employees-- again, doing this on their own time, their own money-- are buying small quantities of masks because the equipment is plentiful. It is relatively cheap over there. And again, I'll describe what is going on with the whole market around these in a moment. Buying small quantities, mailing it to us over here in Connecticut. We've got a setup here where we then take it, we repackage it, we reship it. And we get it directly into the hands of those health care workers and first responders who've told us, I've got an urgent need. And we're getting these requests from all over the country, like I say-- all over the country.
So we've got a steady stream now of 1,000, sometimes up to 1,500 or 2,000 masks that we're able to bring in every day, and then turn around and get those right back out the door, typically have a same-day or maybe a 24-hour turnaround to getting these masks out there where they can actually make a real difference.
So today, like I say, we've distributed let's call it 25,000 masks or so. And more importantly, we've got this steady stream of masks. We've got so much need out there that we really do think we've got a good system in place now to get the masks in, and then get them where they need to go.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: And so let's go back to quality for just a minute.
BEN HUNT: Sure, sure. Well, look, it is the Wild West now, with the acquisition of these masks. And it's been a crash course for me and our team, and learning about the different certifications, the different testing standards, everything that goes into-- these aren't surgical masks. These aren't those rectangular, light-blue masks. They're just basically like a couple of sheets of paper that you see. And those can be manufactured in quantities of-- well, just massive quantities.
But these are-- they are often called respirators. They are a specialty textile that is tested and accredited for blocking a certain proportion of particulates down to a certain size of matter. They have different protections in terms of what they call droplets, the different certifications and different standards. The most common of these masks is called the N95 mask. And different regions call that N95 mask different things, but they all meet the same standards. So in Europe it's typically called an FFP2 mask. In China, it's called a KN95 mask.
So we know what the standards are for what's really expected in a medical facility here in the United States. That's not so much the issue. The issue really is in verifying that the testing procedures and the documents that we receive are legit. And there's no foolproof way to do this, because we can't test every mask that we receive over here. But we do try to test the masks. If we get a bulk shipment, we're working with two local medical centers here in Connecticut. We give them 500 masks and say, hey, test a dozen of these. And keep the rest if they're good. And so far-- and I'll knock on wood here-- but so far we've had a lot of-- we've had good results, from the local testing that we do, that these masks are up to snuff.
Also-- and this is crucially important-- we have people on the ground in China with our Intel China partners here, also some other firms that have really stepped up to the plate to help us to do whatever they can to do the due diligence and the quality control of the different factories, the manufacturers who are making these masks.
So there's no guarantee we can give. Because like everyone else out there, we're seeing these fake FDA certificates from a fly-by-night place. It truly is the Wild West out there in terms of pricing and availability. Some stories I could tell you are just crazy. But we're doing all that we can to spot test, to verify, and do the due diligence on the sourcing of these masks. It's a really important question, and it's something that we take very seriously here.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So at the risk of bringing up another one of your famous hashtags, how do you feel about the story that's been circulating these past few days about a health care worker who brought PPE into work, and was dismissed, was fired?
BEN HUNT: Yeah.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I mean--
BEN HUNT: As you can imagine, I have very strong feelings about this, Danielle. I will say that our response, our interaction with, again, the people on the front lines-- the doctors, the nurses, the department heads, the clinic workers, the EMT chiefs, the fire department chiefs, our interaction with them has been, without exception-- positive doesn't do it justice. Their bravery, and their dedication to what they do, and their need for this equipment is emotionally overwhelming at times, to be honest.
At the same token, this is by no means uniform. You've got a lot of great people working in hospital administration. I've run into a couple of stories, though, examples of a CYA attitude still exists at-- I'll call it the higher administrative levels. Because for all the legitimate concerns about the quality of the masks that we source and that we're able to distribute-- and we certainly make, like I say, every effort to work on that-- what's the quality control of a disposable mask that you've been using for a week? What's that quality control? What's the quality control of using a surgical mask, which is nice paper, but paper, as opposed to a textile that will give you some protection against the droplets, the particulates that are just so pervasive when you're actually on the front lines working with this disease?
It makes me angry. Frankly, it makes me angry.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I know it does. I know it does, Ben. It makes all of us angry. And it's atrocious to read about, and it's atrocious to see. Remind us, what's the website if people want to donate, please?
BEN HUNT: Well, so the website is frontlineheroesusa.org, all one word-- frontlineheroesusa.org.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So talk to me about the--
BEN HUNT: So on that site, that's the front site for a donation facility, which I'll describe. I've got some-- I think some good news around that that I want to get out to the Real Vision listeners. What you'll also see there is a link to an Epsilon Theory site where is the-- I'll call it the intake form for health care workers, emergency responders, first responders, or if you know someone who is, it's an online form to give us contact information and a shipping address. Yes, we will ship to home addresses to avoid exactly that scenario that you were just describing, about the health care worker who brought in some equipment and said, no, you can't use that here. We're going to make you reuse that mask again that you've been using for the past three days.
We'll absolutely send it to your home. We will check and verify the hospital, the clinic that you're associated with. So we'll do that vetting as well.
But that's the site, frontlineheroesusa.org. On the donation facility, Danielle, to date we've raised-- we've been up for, say, maybe a week and a half, close to two weeks-- to date we've raised over $600,000 on this thanks to the generosity of individuals like Real Vision listeners.
I will also say that I just heard-- this was the phone call that came in earlier, right, while we were broadcasting-- there's a very generous donor who's willing to match up to $20,000 in donations from Real Vision listeners and viewers. So there's an opportunity on the donation site to put a little note. So we've put a little note there. They were listening to you, Danielle, or they're a Real Vision subscriber, this donor will match up to $20,000 of donations.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Thank you.
BEN HUNT: Yeah, that's great. I want to be really clear also about something else. 100% of all funds donated, every penny of every dollar, goes to buying and distributing PPE for our frontline heroes. That also includes-- there's another generous donor who said, look, I'll even pick up the credit card charges. You know, the payment processors tack on their own fees for when you give money on these sites.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: That's what I've done for mine, Ben. But I pay for my fees. But look, somebody's generous enough to come out and pay for those fees. That's amazing.
BEN HUNT: Yeah, this is