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These Arizona companies are pivoting or ramping up PPE production to fight coronavirus

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 4/24/2020 Arizona Republic
a person using a laptop: Staff of FABRIC, a fashion incubator in Tempe, place pins while creating a garment on Aug. 4, 2016. © Ryan Walsh via FABRIC Staff of FABRIC, a fashion incubator in Tempe, place pins while creating a garment on Aug. 4, 2016.

The accelerating spread of the new coronavirus has led Phoenix-area fashion, toy and technology companies to redirect their business plans in pursuit of a common goal: making up for the shortage of personal protective equipment, such as surgical face masks and hospital gowns. 

Here is a list of Arizona companies switching gears to help out.

Chinese American community supplies Arizona hospital with masks

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More than 100,000 face masks have been sent from China to Arizona Hospitals in the last week, thanks to a successful fundraiser by the Tempe Chinese School.

These masks were purchased from China and will be delivered to various hospitals throughout the state. They were donated by the group Chinese American COVID-19 Relief AZ.

The Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix and the Banner Desert Medical Center received 16,000 masks each on Friday. In Tucson, 5,000 masks were delivered by volunteers to the Banner – University Medical Center Tucson on Thursday and will bring an additional 3,000 next week. Several other hospitals will also receive shipments.

Sports jacket company makes masks for community

Staff at Phoenix Lettering, a family-run shop that makes custom letterman jackets at 35th and Campbell avenues, would normally be creating and sewing patches for high school sports banquets and preparing for the busy fall sports season this time of year.

But business has mostly dried up as schools closed statewide for the remainder of the school year and athletic competitions are canceled.

In March, owner Sue Castelletti decided to close the shop for two weeks and continue paying her seven employees. She decided to keep the doors closed longer when the public health crisis didn’t improve.

She did chores and projects around the house after closing the shop, but after a few days she couldn’t sit idly by anymore — even if the shop was closed, she could still work, she said.

“I just felt like I should be doing something, so I started coming in,” she said.

Castelletti decided she would make face masks after reading about the need for protective gear.

a person sitting at a table: Sue Castelletti and her granddaughter Angelina, of Phoenix Lettering, are making personal masks for the local community. © Courtesy of Sue Castelletti Sue Castelletti and her granddaughter Angelina, of Phoenix Lettering, are making personal masks for the local community.

She found elastic, which wasn’t easy, a few of her sewing friends donated fabric and the shop had a stock of non-woven interfacing and got to work.

A few friends asked for a couple of masks for themselves. She sent a day's-worth of masks, about 25, to a friend’s mom who is in a nursing home in Colorado. Employees at the nearby CVS asked if they could get some. A friend who is a social worker at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center said she could use a few.

“People found out and started reaching out,” Castelletti said. “It kind of snowballed.”

Castelletti, her business partner, her daughter Katie, and her granddaughter Angelina have been working about five hours a day making masks for the local community. Castelletti said she has reached out to Phoenix to see if her shop can help in any way.

So far, they have made about 400 masks — about 25 to 30 a day. The masks are all being donated, though sometimes people will give her a small donation to help keep them going, she said.

“I can’t make 100 a day, but every little bit I do I feel is worthwhile,” she said.

a table topped with different types of food: Sue Castelletti, owner of Phoenix Lettering, a family-run shop that makes letterman jackets, is putting the shop's sewing machines to use to make face masks while the store is closed. © Courtesy of Sue Castelletti Sue Castelletti, owner of Phoenix Lettering, a family-run shop that makes letterman jackets, is putting the shop's sewing machines to use to make face masks while the store is closed.

Still, Castelletti is worried about the future of her shop and her employees.

They are taking online and phone orders but business has been slow.

Without a steady income, she’s not sure how long she’ll be able to keep her employees — her business partner, daughter, granddaughter, a longtime employee and the employee’s three daughters — on the payroll.

“They’re more than just employees, they’re like family,” she said. 

Castelletti has applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business loan that helps companies keep their workforce employed, and she hopes the federal stimulus checks put a little bit of money into her employees' pockets, though she knows it’s not enough.

Despite the uncertainty of the situation, she said she is hopeful they can make it work.

“We’ve been in business for 40 years and weathered several recessions, so I hope we can survive this,” she said.

'1 Million Gown Challenge'

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The Fashion and Business Resource Innovation Center — or FABRIC — is pivoting from assisting emerging fashion designers to helping mitigate the shortage of protective equipment for health care professionals.

FABRIC, and its nonprofit AZ Apparel Foundation, obtained certification from the Food and Drug Administration to produce isolation gowns. They are now filling orders for local health care facilities.

The organization is asking designers and sewing enthusiasts in the community to join the "1 Million Gown Challenge," FABRIC co-founder Angela Johnson announced in a blog post on April 9.

"As a community resource for apparel entrepreneurs and a manufacturer of sewn products, we have received countless desperate and heartbreaking requests to provide millions of PPE items to healthcare facilities nationwide," Johnson said in the post. 

FABRIC created a pattern and technical instructions for the local sewing community interested in joining its efforts to produce isolation gowns. The patterns can be found on its website.

The material needed can be purchased from home improvement stores. The fabric is not FDA-approved, but considered "substantially equivalent," and is fluid repellent, breathable and antimicrobial.

If necessary, the organization will connect community members with health care facilities in need where they can deliver finished gowns. 

FABRIC is working with two major local health care systems in need of almost 400,000 isolation gowns total, Johnson announced in a blog post on April 8

The production of these FDA-approved gowns will be increasing with the purchase of additional sewing machines, but more sewing technicians are still needed in addition to funding for an automatic cutter, Johnson said in the post. 

Gov. Doug Ducey expressed gratitude toward FABRIC in a Facebook post on Wednesday after the organization cut 56,000 squares of material for 22,000 masks for Arizona's essential workers. 

Johnson said the production was "an effort to save medical-grade masks for healthcare workers."

Honeywell to produce over 6 million masks for Arizona

Ducey announced Saturday that Honeywell will produce more than 6 million N95 masks for Arizona over the next year, creating more than 500 jobs in the process, according to a statement.

Honeywell, whose aerospace facilities are headquartered in Phoenix, are actively recruiting and hiring employees to work on the project.

"I'm grateful to Honeywell for stepping up and partnering with Arizona to help get these masks to our doctors, nurses and EMTs on the frontlines," Ducey said in the statement. "This is what exemplary corporate citizenship looks like. Honeywell is setting the example for others to follow, and we'll continue forging private-sector partnerships to get our medical professionals the supplies and resources they need."

Honeywell previously announced a shift in manufacturing to make masks last week, but Saturday's announcement marks one of the largest private partnerships to date during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fashion incubator pivots from designer clothes to PPE

FABRIC is asking for help with funding and resources as it pivots to help mitigate the shortage of protective equipment for health care professionals. 

The health care system is facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, referred to as PPE, that workers need to protect themselves during the new coronavirus pandemic. 

The shortage has sparked many initiatives around the Valley, such as donation drives for PPE items such as eye protection, gloves, masks and gowns. 

FABRIC traditionally provides resources for fashion designers and entrepreneurs to make products locally, but announced in a blog post March 31 that it finished its first "emergency production" of isolation gowns for health care professionals. 

The 33 barrier gowns were made for a rehab facility that was desperate for PPE immediately, using fabric equivalent to FDA-approved materials, said the post by Johnson. 

"They have a considerable amount of patients on ventilators for various reasons (not COVID-19 patients), and they called in tears because they were completely out of gowns," Johnson said in the blog.

FABRIC's 26,000-square-foot warehouse in Tempe, where it regularly hosts fashion shows, has pattern makers, technical designers and equipment available to produce masks and gowns. 

"We feel we have an obligation and a responsibility to make these things correctly," said Sherri Barry, a co-founder of FABRIC. "If we're all in this together with COVID-19, this is something we can do. We can help our health care workers with the expertise that we have."

The organization has estimated it can produce 500 gowns a day by "ramping up" capabilities and hopes to increase that number with donations and grant funding. 

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Manufacturing medical-grade equipment

Barry said it's important to the organization to follow guidelines recommended by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when creating the equipment.

FABRIC was unable to find masks to buy for its team that is working to produce the gowns, and it is working to make masks after being able to locate the proper materials to produce FDA-approved surgical masks. 

Volunteers across Arizona are leading initiatives to sew homemade face masks for health care professionals. But homemade masks are not considered to be personal protective equipment, and the CDC only recommends using them as a "last resort."

Kate Anderson, the director of design development and production at FABRIC, said homemade masks made from cotton are concerning when used in health care settings ​because of how absorbent the material is. 

"For these guys to take the time to understand what really is safe and effective out there, and do this moving forward, is fantastic," said Amy Oakes, a quality and regulatory consultant for the FDA. Oakes said the FDA understands the urgency and importance and is expediting the reviews. 

The medical-grade material required to make the gowns is pricey and, at $4 a yard, an order of 30,000 pounds of fabric producing 20,000 gowns would cost $120,000. An additional challenge is that the material is "almost as scarce as the finished goods themselves," Barry said. 

"We have all the capabilities to manufacture these garments, and do it correctly and efficiently, but our hands are completely tied until we get this fabric here," Anderson said.

Health care facilities in need of PPE, and anyone interested in making a donation to fund these materials, can visit fabrictempe.com/helpsolveppeshortage or contact Barry at sherri@azfashionsource.com.

Honeywell helps produce N95 masks, hires 500

Honeywell is hiring at its Phoenix facility to increase production of high-filtration N95 face masks and personal protective equipment.

Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted the news on March 23 announcing the company is adding 500 new jobs in Phoenix.

The masks will be produced at Honeywell's Phoenix Engines campus, located on the north side of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The location primarily designs and manufactures aircraft propulsion engines and auxiliary power units, according to an announcement on Honeywell's website. 

The masks will be delivered to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services for use to support health, safety, and emergency response workers. The Phoenix facility will prioritize fulfilling the U.S government's procurement and will be able to produce masks for states' health care and emergency response organizations, according to the city. 

"Honeywell’s production expansion will also support American businesses, including industrial equipment providers and raw materials suppliers," according to the city.

Honeywell is working with state and local officials to increase production efforts and support hiring and training. 

“We have moved quickly to expand our production capacity for N95 masks globally and are pleased to announce our second new U.S. manufacturing line to supply the Strategic National Stockpile,” said Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, in a company statement.

Phoenix toy company aids intubation needs

An Arizona toy company known for designing interactive learning spaces for kids in public libraries has shifted its efforts to hospital rooms.

Last week, Burgeon Group designed eight prototypes of a see-through box with two holes on the side for doctors to use while intubating COVID-19 patients. The company calls it the "London Box" intubation shield.

The boxes are designed to help doctors when they are connecting a patient to a ventilator, which provides breathing assistance for someone who is seriously ill from pneumonia and is no longer able to inhale and exhale on their own.

A ventilator requires a tube to be inserted into the windpipe in a process called intubation. Doctors can use the box while intubating a patient to protect themselves from any particles that could be released from the patient's airway during the procedure.

Since Wednesday, prototypes have been shipped to Texas, and Burgeon Group has gotten inquiries from across the country from doctors and medical centers, according to Kim Van Der Veen, Burgeon Group principal.

"Just word of mouth, there's no website up yet, no marketing," Van Der Veen said. "It passed so quickly, hospital inspections, that other people are trying to reach out."

Boeing's Mesa campus makes 3D face shields

Boeing delivered its first donation of 2,300 reusable face shields to health care providers on Friday. The company is using 3D-printing technology at several of its facilities across the United States to mass produce face shields.

"Face shields and other PPE have been in such short supply that some doctors and nurses have turned to swimming goggles and other homemade options," a company statement said. "Boeing worked with health care providers across the country to understand what equipment was most urgently needed and how that aligned with Boeing’s vast manufacturing capabilities."

According to the statement, Boeing's initial production goal is to produce thousands of face shields per week followed "by subsequent production increases.” 

“Boeing has additive manufacturing machines at St. Louis, Missouri; at El Segundo, California; Mesa, Arizona; Huntsville, Alabama and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that are being used for this initial response for as long as those facilities remain in operation, consistent with federal, state and local health orders and the health and safety of [our] employees,” the statement adds.

Boeing employees in Mesa are using "state of the art additive manufacturing machines" to 3D print frames made with adjustable headbands, the statement said. A clear plastic face shield is then snapped into the frame. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved the reusable face shields, and they will be distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

In addition to the face shields, Boeing has already donated tens of thousands of masks, gloves and other medical equipment to hospitals in need.

The company is also making Dreamlifter, one of the largest air cargo transporters in the world, available to help carry urgent emergency supplies to health care professionals.

A Navajo County high school is making face shields

The Blue Ridge University of Arizona 4-H Fab Lab is joining the fight against COVID-19 by making PPE and prototypes of new designs for ventilator parts.

"I'm ecstatic to help," said Kevin Woolridge, a science and math teacher at Blue Ridge High School in Navajo County. "We are all forced to be at home, social distancing right now. It's helping to focus our energies, and to do something like this — actually making a difference to help keep our health professionals and first responders safe — we're very excited to do this."

Woodridge is working with Navajo County Extension Director Steve Gouker and two students in the fabrication laboratory to finish about 300 face shields to give to the Whiteriver Indian Hospital on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

And in addition to face shields, Woodridge and his team have used the Fab Lab's 3D printer to fabricate a prototype of an H-tube — a ventilator part that could allow a ventilator to be used for four patients if there is an emergency shortage.

Phoenix-based Brooklyn Bedding makes hospital beds

Brooklyn Bedding, an American mattress company manufacturing in Phoenix, announced Wednesday it would begin producing hospital beds, in a statement posted to its website. 

The company developed a vinyl mattress cover for truckers 16 years ago that includes a vinyl cover that provides waterproofing features needed by hospitals. 

Health and government officials in need of these supplies can contact Brooklyn Bedding at HelpAmerica@brooklynbedding.com or brooklynbedding.com/healthsupplies

Local dentists donate PPE to hospitals

Following requests made by Gov. Doug Ducey, the Arizona Dental Association organized donation drop-off points to collect excess PPE from dentists at eight dental offices across the Valley last week. 

a person sitting in a box: Donations of PPE for health care professionals made at Uptown Smiles Dentistry in Phoenix on March 25, 2020. © Arizona Dental Association Donations of PPE for health care professionals made at Uptown Smiles Dentistry in Phoenix on March 25, 2020.

Dr. Jennifer Enos, a dentist practicing in Chandler who facilitated a drop-off at Dental Arts of Chandler, said the organization is made up of a network of almost half of the dentists in Arizona, and everyone she contacted was more than willing to help. 

"We're used to helping people, that's what we like to do," Enos said. "We're really limited as to how we can help people during the crisis, so I think just being able to help our front-line health care workers in that one little way ... makes a big difference for our dentists in being able to feel like we're contributing." 

The total amount of donations have not been calculated yet, but Enos said donations made to her office included about 130 boxes of gloves, four packages of gowns and 50 boxes of masks. 

The dentists coordinated with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health to collect the donated PPE and distribute as needed, Enos said. 

Phoenix-based baby product retailer donates face masks 

Bumkins, a retailer that's been providing baby products to the Phoenix community for more than 30 years, is donating hospital-grade masks to Valley medical centers. 

With the help of its factories overseas, the company so far has donated 200 masks to the Maricopa County Psychiatric Center at Phoenix Memorial Hospital.  

"Bumkins community outreach has always been about four causes: healthy children, supporting underserved communities, environmental sustainability and community engagement," the statement said. 

Medical centers experiencing shortages can email marketing@bumkins.com

Phoenix-based large format printer company making masks and face shields

Image Craft, a large-format printing company, has begun making cloth masks and face shields to donate. 

Christine Sterling, spokesperson for the company, said they have donated the masks to the Phoenix Police Department as well as the Phoenix Fire Department.

The company plans to donate masks to a food bank as well CULT Artisan Beverage Company, which is donating caffeine kits to health care workers and first responders, Sterling said. 

The company has made almost 500 masks so far and has the materials to make up to 2,400 face shields, Sterling said. 

"Our main goal was we wanted to keep all our employees working ... and do some good in the process," Sterling said. 

The company primarily makes building or wall graphics, but also produces fabric graphics, which is how they had the equipment to make cloth masks. 

Image Craft is also making social-distancing signage for any essential businesses that must remain open at this time to ensure proper social distancing guidelines are followed. 

Know of an Arizona company manufacturing PPE? Send information to kaila.white@arizonarepublic.com.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: These Arizona companies are pivoting or ramping up PPE production to fight coronavirus

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