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A nice story to help tamp down some of my cynical view of the human race...

March 22, 2020 11:10AM

Mukilteo manufacturer switches from making couches to surgical masks to help hospitals

MUKILTEO, Wash. – When Jeff Kaas inherited his father’s furniture manufacturing business many moons ago, he never could’ve imagined going from making stylish couches and chairs to sewing together surgical masks amid the outbreak of a deadly virus.

“It’s been crazy.”

As doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists at hospitals across the country burn through personal protective equipment (PPE) treating COVID-19 patients, the supply can’t keep up with the demand. Hearing about this critical shortfall and the massive need for that equipment, Kaas knew he had to step up.

“The whole idea is if this is our time, we’re going to rise and run,” said Kaas.

So earlier this week, he got in touch with someone he knows at Providence St. Joseph. They began collaborating. Providence came up with a blueprint for the masks. Kaas readied his team, shifting business from loveseats and lighting to getting everyone ready to make surgical masks and face shields.

“It looked like a furniture factory on Thursday and today it looks a little different.”

With a design in hand, he sent that off to a connection in Europe. From there, a digital play-by-play of how to put them together was created. Kaas says that video and the information it contains has been sent out to at least 25 states where manufacturers there can begin helping their local hospitals.

So far, Kaas says his team of 50 full-timers has made more than 5,600 masks and close to 1,000 face shields in just two days. He expects another 150 volunteers to occupy the Mukilteo business shortly to kick things up a notch. The biggest challenge now is figuring what works best in the mask-making process and how to streamline it. Progress, he says, is being made.

“I owe it to my colleagues to protect them and deliver something valuable to them,” said Kaas.

It won’t be an easy task.

Providence Senior Vice President Jennifer Bayersdorfer says for its 51 hospitals, roughly 10 million masks are needed.

“The world is ready to act,” she said.

With this partnership between a health care system and private business now stitched together, Bayersdorfer says across the U.S., 100 million masks will likely be needed along with more manufacturers stepping up to get that done.

As for how we got here, Bayersdorfer says when the COVID-19 outbreak ravaged China, hospitals there expended PPE in a hurry. On top of that, manufacturers in the country slowed production. A one-two punch that’s left a massive gap in the supply chain.

“We knew because of the supply chain issue that PPE would rapidly become the most critical need that we would have,” she said.

Bayersdorfer says it could be anywhere between 30 and 60 days for those factories to get back to normal production. For that reason, she says something has to happen and happen now.

“The unknown is how big is this surge going to get,” Bayersdorfer said. “Demand will continue to escalate. “It could last awhile.”

Right now, she says some hospitals are forced to re-use certain PPE and to extend their use longer than they normally would.

When it comes to Kaas and his furniture business, he knows the future is bleak. Truthfully, he doesn’t know if it’ll survive. He and his employees are sewing those masks together and putting together those face shields facing a lot of uncertainty and doing so on the company’s dime.

“I think we’ll figure that out,” Kaas said calmly.

  A nice story to help tamp down some of my cynical view of the human race...

SeattleRam27March 22, 2020 11:10AM