MUKILTEO, Wash. – When a local hospital system in Washington state put a call out to the community, challenging them to sew 100 million masks, they couldn’t have predicted a local manufacturer would swoop in and start mass producing quality face masks and face shields.
“Now our clinicians who put these [face masks] on say it’s a better product than we had even been using before,” said Jennifer Bayersdorfer, senior VP & chief quality officer at Providence St. Joseph Health.
It was only last Sunday, Bayersdorfer said, when the health group’s head of infection prevention sounded an alarm.
“To say the shortage of personal protective equipment has gotten so critical that we’re going have to start to make our own," she said,
The owner of Kaas Tailored in Mukilteo saw the crucial need, and texted a doctor he has developed a relationship with by giving factory tours over the last dozen or so years.
“I said, 'I see you need masks and we have a factory, so if we can be of any help let me know.'”
Jeff Kaas said the furniture and upholstery business has been open for more than a few decades, and their client list includes Boeing and Nordstrom.
Instead of producing flight attendant seats, or sofas and chairs for a department store, the employees at Kaas Tailored are now preparing quality face masks that were designed and perfected with Providence healthcare workers.
“When Kaas Tailored stepped up, they were able to take our prototype and we worked with them to say, ‘You know we’ve been hearing if we just tweak here and here and adjust this it’ll be even better,” said Bayersdorfer.
“[Caregivers] can wear a blue mask and that will protect the N95,” said Kaas, owner. “This prevents both from getting wet. It’s two layers of protection to protect the N95s, because they’re really only supposed to use those for a day as far as I know, but there are not enough of those for them to use.”
The Providence hospitals in Everett and the greater Seattle area are treating 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 400 people who are suspecting of having it but are waiting on results. Then there are those who are in quarantine at home.
Bayersdorfer said we have not seen the surge, but that it is coming to the hospitals that are already on their knees with the number of sick patients coming in.
As for Kaas Tailored, the owner and the workers have volunteered their time and energy to produce protective masks without knowing if they’ll ever even get paid.
Kaas has even phoned a manufacturing friend abroad in Holland that got around to producing hundreds of masks in a day last week.
In the coming days, the production will expand even more with additional friends in the industry stepping up to cut material and sew.
“They can cut maybe a thousand an hour or a little bit more, and we have a bunch of friends at Nordstrom, the tailors downtown. We’re going to send some of them to sew,” said Kaas. “There’s a bunch of other companies. We’re going to be really ramping up a mini-industrial situation.”
The finished masks will go to a hospital warehouse to be sterilized.
Providence is thanking everyone in the community who originally signed up to sew a mask.
The face mask and face shield prototype is available online for anyone.
Kaas said they’re getting phone calls about the design from other countries where there is a need.