NFL: Super Bowl LIII-Arrivals

Robert Kraft’s New England Patriots team plane, shown last January, was used to transport protective masks from China to Boston on Thursday.

A call for help from Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker prompted an unorthodox mission from the New England Patriots, who sent their team jet to China this week in order to retrieve 1.7 million N95 medical masks, the team said on Thursday.

A private jet was needed to expedite the shipment that would have otherwise taken weeks to arrive, the team said, as hospitals in hard-hit regions of the country struggle to access desperately needed supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is an honor for our family to be a part of this humanitarian mission,” team owner Robert Kraft said in a written statement.

“We knew that purchasing greatly-needed N95 masks and providing the Patriots plane to expedite their delivery to local hospitals would immediately help protect our courageous healthcare professionals.”

The team told Reuters that 1.4 million masks, which were purchased in a partnership between the Kraft family and Baker, will go to hospitals in Massachusetts. Another 300,000 purchased by Kraft will be sent to New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.

The first portion of the transport, aboard the plane that regularly shepherded the six-time Super Bowl champions across the country during the NFL season, arrived Thursday at Boston Logan International Airport. The remaining stock will come next week. “No days off,” Baker wrote on Twitter, in reference to one of the team’s unofficial slogans. “Huge thanks to the Krafts and several dedicated partners for making this happen.”

The shipment comes as an increasing number of U.S. sports institutions are drawn into the fight against coronavirus. The U.S. Tennis Association said on Monday that its Queens facility, the site of the U.S. Open, would host a temporary, 350-bed hospital to help the city’s strained resources.

The Patriots were cheered across social media, even among fans of rivals the New York Jets.

“This is beyond teams and borders,” wrote Twitter user MikeG37. “As a life long NY Jets fan, hats off to Mr. Kraft and the team business and aviation professionals making this possible!”