Casual furniture manufacturers step up to help produce medical equipment
HIGH POINT — Members of the casual furniture industry are joining the fight against COVID-19 by helping with the production of personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks and hospital gowns in the face of critical shortages across the country.
At Northcape, Tim Murray, one of the company’s three owners, says the company has almost completely transitioned its production and distribution functions to produce face masks and nurses gowns for the time
The company got the idea from another one of its owners, Bill Wenzel Jr., who is on the board of the Cape Regional Medical Center in New Jersey. Wenzel brought the idea of manufacturing masks, something Murray and others had previously only joked about doing, to the company following a meeting with the hospital’s board.
“They called an emergency meeting last Thursday, and what came out of it was a lot of upset people, nurses, administrators and others,” said Murray. “They were at a point mask-wise that they had nothing, and they had so few gowns that they were not allowing people to use them for non-critical situations. … The shortage had just gotten that bad.”
Nurses and other members of the staff were frustrated and scared by the situation, and many had even begun bringing scarves and bandannas to work to try and cover up, a fact that deeply concerned Wenzel and other members of Northcape.
“So, he just asked the hospital to let us try and make the masks,” says Murray. “We knew we could at least do better than bandannas and scarves.”
The company made its first set of masks the day after the hospital’s emergency meeting using a basic mask design sent to them by the hospital. After shipping the samples overnight to the hospital and getting approval, the company set to work preparing its facilities for the shift and also got ready to produce a hospital gowns. As of March 24, its first full day of production, the company has already made several thousand masks, and it has the capability to continue pushing out somewhere around 4,000 masks and 500 gowns each day.
The masks are being used by hospitals, first responders and other healthcare facilities to extend the life of N95 masks and are being worn by staff members who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to any mask because of limited supplies. Gowns are being used the same way, and each mask and gown produced by the company is being made with the same outdoor safe polyester fabrics it usually uses on cushions and its other products.
“They aren’t perfect, certified N95 masks, just because we don’t have the certification or time to get certified,” said Murray. “But, the masks are good, surgical-style pieces, which is what a lot of folks really need. People at the hospital were so glad to have them that some nurses even started crying when we sent samples.”
But the situation is not just benefiting the hospital. Murray says that moving to producing PPE has helped Northcape’s Alsip, Ill.-based factory stay open to fulfill its own furniture orders and keep its employees working regularly despite Illinois’ stay-at-home order which went into effect March 21 and is set to last through April 7.
“We’re now considered an essential business, so we get to stay open and keep our folks working while doing our part to help in this crisis. We’re very happy to be doing this.”
Northcape isn’t alone in its mask manufacturing efforts, either. Michigan-based manufacturer Woodard announced earlier this week that it has committed to producing 1,000 non-N95 masks a day for medical professionals, first responders and patients in the coming weeks, and has already started the production process by ordering fabric and creating cutting dies.
“Now is the time to give something back, and we’re all in this together,” said Jean Liu, CEO of Litex, Woodard’s parent company. “We will gratefully accept any and all assistance as we try to fill a short-term gap during this crisis.”
Other outdoor companies with cut and sew capabilities have also been reaching out to Murray and others during this crisis to find out how to get involved in PPE production. On the indoor side, according to a report from Casual Living’s sister publication Furniture Today, Tim Dolan of High Point-based TDI Worldwide is spearheading an industry effort among furniture and bedding companies and their suppliers to devote part of their capacity to the production of masks.
“It’s going to take a whole lot of people and companies working together to get this thing under control,” noted Murray about the COVID-19 pandemic. “We want to help any way we can.”
For those interested in purchasing individual masks or gowns from Northcape, visit the company’s partner retailer for this effort, Patio HQ.
If you are interested in buying PPE in bulk or have any contacts with healthcare facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities or similar institutions that might be in need, please email Northcape at email@example.com or Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. F
or inquiries about the industry effort being led by Dolan, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on working with the FDA for guidance on making and clearing masks with the organization, visit its FAQ page.