Last updated on April 28th, 2020 at 01:22 pm
Since reconfiguring its manufacturing capabilities five weeks ago to produce reusable face masks for frontline medical personnel, Janesville-based Monterey Mills, in partnership with Oak Creek-based Eder Flag, is now pumping out 65,000 face masks daily, fulfilling orders for large health care systems and first responders across the country.
On March 17, Monterey Mills president Dan Sinykin tasked his management and development teams with creating a reusable protective face mask in response to the national shortage of PPE for health care workers fighting the COVID-19 coronavirus. The company ordinarily produces knitted pile fabric used for paint rollers, wool and wool-blended buffing pads, hospital pads, wash mitts, apparel, toys and home furnishings.
“We already produce a unique air filtration media that protects workers in factories worldwide,” he said. “What we needed, however, were two things: a cut and sew operation to sew our concepts into usable masks and we needed to get the word out to first responders, front-line hospitals, doctors, nurses, caregivers that we had an excellent alternative.”
Sinykin said Monterey Mills reached out to Eder Flag on March 20 about converting a part of its flag-sewing operations to produce the barrier masks. That weekend, the companies began making masks, with an initial cut-and-sew capacity of producing 1,000 daily. The two companies announced the launch of their partnership in late March.
At the same time, Sinykin was battling the virus himself. Sinykin suspects that he, his wife and four kids all contracted COVID-19 while traveling through O’Hare International Airport on March 15.
“It was a brutal, probably, 10 days for us,” Sinykin said Monday, during a virtual Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting.
Sinykin said he and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus antibodies last week, and plan to donate plasma this week for an experimental treatment that could help current COVID-19 patients.
Meanwhile, his company has significantly ramped up its mask production over the past month.
One of the company’s first clients was UW Health in Madison, which was in urgent need of PPE in late March, Sinykin said. It then began supplying the Milwaukee Health Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.
Soon after, Advocate Aurora Health put in an order for masks.
“Theirs was critical in getting our operation started,” Sinykin said.
Orders followed from the Milwaukee VA, Marshfield Clinic, Wisconsin National Guard, the City of Milwaukee, Sauk County Health Department, Sixteenth Street Health Centers, first responders statewide, and numerous senior living centers, along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, and hospitals in New York, Ohio and Texas, Sinykin said.
Monterey Mills and Eder Flag recently added cut-and-sew capacity to supply masks to businesses and individuals, he said. The company has already received orders from businesses, including Ixonia Bank, New York-based Seneca Foods and one of the “nation’s largest technology companies” with 50,000 North American employees.
“Now we are poised and ready to meet the needs and challenges ahead as our state and nation endeavor to return to work mindful of the ongoing risk of infection and the need for PPE masks like ours,” Sinykin said.
Meanwhile, the company has taken steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at its own facility, including staggering breaks and lunches, cleaning the lunch room “over and over again” and other high-traffic areas, switching to touchless time clocks and swipe cards, providing masks to all employees and laundering them daily, and taking employees’ temperatures daily.
Monterey Mills launched a website last week to sell its masks. The company is pledging to donate one mask for every five, of the first 25,000 masks it sells online, to families and first responders in Milwaukee’s most affected areas, including the 53205 and 53206 zip codes.
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