Companies and Individuals Step up to the Plate to Manufacture Medical Supplies During COVID 19 Crisis |

Companies and Individuals Step up to the Plate to Manufacture Medical Supplies During COVID 19 Crisis

Ruth Wiechmann
for Tri-State Livetock News

In the face of COVID 19 there’s been a lot of bad news, separation, isolation, shortages of basic supplies and short fuses. There is, however, enough ingenuity, collaboration, generosity, kindness and good old fashioned American work ethic to counterbalance the negatives in abundance.

As the COVID numbers rose, the cry went out from the medical establishment that masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) were in short supply. Healthcare workers on the front lines needed masks to give them at least a small measure of protection from the virus as they cared for those who had succumbed.

That cry was heard.

From universities to corporations, jewelry manufacturers to doctors to seamstresses, people responded to the call.

Montana Masks

Montana Silversmiths, a business widely known for its jewelry and belt buckles, found itself deemed a ‘non-essential’ business during the COVID-19 threat, and also saw rodeos that they usually supplied buckles for being cancelled right and left. Not excited about the prospect of laying off employees, Vice President Lance Neirby picked up on a Billings neurosurgeon’s idea and ran with it.

Dr. Dusty Richardson, a Billings neurosurgeon, collaborated with local dentist Dr. Spencer Zaugg and his son Colton to create a mask that can be printed using a 3D printer. The mask incorporates small filters that are disposable and replaceable, and the mask can be sterilized and reused. The filters can be created by cutting an N95 mask into six pieces, or small square filter inserts can be used.

Montana Silversmiths started using their 3D technology to print masks to supply medical facilities in the Billings area and farther afield. Billings schools also volunteered the use of their 3D printers. Anyone with a 3D printer can make the masks to supply a need in their community; all of the information needed is found at If a 3D printer is not available locally, individuals may also contact Montana Silversmiths to fill a need for masks in their community.

Science and Engineering At Work

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology faculty and students are partnering with Monument Health in Rapid City, South Dakota, to help the Black Hills area fight COVID-19. South Dakota Mines is one of many universities around the country working with the National Institute of Health and the FDA to design respirator masks and other PPE. Besides their research into development, design and manufacture of PPE they are also experimenting with how to improve the sterilization and reuse of PPE and exploring and researching ways to help design and manufacture other medical equipment and supplies such as hand sanitizer. The university recently delivered 225 gallons of hand sanitizer to Monument Health. They are also developing and testing a computer model that could be used to predict how many cases of COVID-19 could occur in a given community.

The university does not have the capacity to distribute any PPE or medical supplies, but any products or technology solutions developed will be released through local providers. The design and testing process is a time consuming one involving a lot of trial and error, but students and faculty working on the projects are working hard to find solutions that will provide expedient solutions to the current needs in the healthcare industry.

Carhartt: Committed to Serving Hard Working People

Carhartt has a long standing tradition of serving America’s hard working people. Since 1889 they have created durable clothing geared toward individuals who spend their days working out in the elements doing the hard jobs: feeding livestock, building roads, drilling oil wells, logging, farming.

Hard work, though, is not limited to outdoor jobs. With the current COVID-19 crisis, medical personnel, first responders, nurses, doctors, nursing home staff and others find themselves on the front lines. Senior Vice President of Supply Chain William Hardy, Kentucky, said that another textile company reached out to Carhartt on March 16th, asking for help to make protective gowns.

“We asked them to send us a sample,” Hardy said, “And even before we received it we started getting more calls. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce contacted us on behalf of the Governor’s office. The Department of Emergency Management brought us samples of the PPE that was so desperately needed. We literally got requests from all over the country. We looked at each other and said, ‘This is what we need to do.’”

The first challenge ahead of them was acquiring the needed raw materials, making gowns and masks required completely different base products than the clothing they typically manufacture.

“Our project team worked 24-7 to get things rolling,” Hardy said. “Our current suppliers put us in contact with sources for the raw materials we needed. It was truly a collaboration. Everyone wanted to help.”

The first phone calls to the production of the first gowns took only three weeks. Masks were being produced in four weeks.

“I wish you could have seen the pride on the faces of our associates when the first garments came off the line,” Hardy said. “They are so excited to be doing this. We are being careful to keep our working environment as safe as possible for them.”

COVID-19 is not the first time Carhartt has switched production from overalls and coats to something different.

“We have served our country both during World War I and World War II,” Hardy said. “During World War I we made trousers for our soldiers. During World War II we made jumpsuits for the marines serving in Asia; the traditional wool military clothing was too hot for the jungle. We also made jumpsuits and overalls for the tank operators serving in Europe. Now it’s time for our generation to step up to fight this virus, and everyone on our team has risen to the occasion.

“Back in those days, when we were making clothing for our soldiers, everyone knew someone who was on the front lines. The same is true now; everyone knows someone who is in the medical profession. When it became known that we were making medical supplies, texts and calls started pouring in from people who had family members on the front lines.”

Made With Love

Like many other women, Tanny Huffman of Selby, South Dakota, has been sewing masks at home for medical personnel who are in desperate need of them.

“My contribution is very small and very personal,” she said. “My daughter, Sarah, is a nurse at Abbot Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. She called to ask me if I could make masks for her and her co-workers. The hospital was asking for volunteers to sew masks because of the shortage. Even now, a month into this situation, they still do not have enough PPE. The hospital has been asking them to reuse N95 masks, which previously would have been a fireable offence!

“Of course I was going to do this for her. Making the masks was very simple, even beginning seamstresses can make them; now I’m making surgical hats. They are far more challenging!”

Tanny also made masks for the Walworth County Care Center, a nursing home in Selby. Just a year ago, the Good Samaritan Society announced they were going to close the facility, but local residents stepped up, took matters into their own hands, dug into their pocketbooks, and raised the huge sum needed to take over the business and keep it going. Tanny’s mother in law recently spent time in the Care Center after a fall, and although she’s back in her own home, Tanny said the nursing home holds a special place in their hearts.

“Making these masks is a labor of love,” she said. “When I feel anxious, it’s something I can do. I’m not normally someone who struggles with anxiety, but I know Sarah is anxious. She’s worried about bringing it home to her family. She has a little guy with asthma who is high risk.”

Laurel Schultes, Faith South Dakota, responded to requests from a couple of friends who needed masks on the job. She experimented with several different mask designs so that the people using them could choose what was the most comfortable and functional.

“The simplest ones were made from a 9” x 6” piece of fabric that was pleated, and elastic bands that go around the ears are added on the ends,” she said. “I made some that attached to large buttons on stretchy cloth headbands that my girls had. I made some with longer elastic bands that went around the top of the head and the back of the neck, and I made one that you can put filters into. That one was a little more complicated because it was shaped and fitted more than the others. The simple pleated one was easy enough that my granddaughter made a few. I just used fabric that I had; they asked for different colors so that they could tell them apart easily. I didn’t do much, but I will gladly make more for anyone else who needs them.”

Tiffany Sanderson, a Senior Policy Advisor to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, spends her days in Pierre responding to and planning for COVID’s impact on the state. She said that since so many activities have been cancelled due to COVID-19, she has a little bit more free time than usual in the evenings to catch up on things she doesn’t always have time for.

“Sewing is one of those things,” Tiffany said. “I saw the need for masks at long-term care facilities and thought supplying staff with masks that met CDC guidelines, fit well, and were made from fun fabrics would bring a bit of cheer to the situation.

“I think we’re all trying to find ways to be helpful in addressing this virus. Sewing (and making a dent in my heap of scraps!) is one small contribution I can make to support those on the front lines, caring for people I care a great deal about.”

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