Scarcity of face masks remains a challenge
Two companies manufacturing more for Montgomery County
Several businesses are partnering with the Montgomery County to manufacture face masks. Pictured are face masks being made at Leonard's Draperies in Prince George's County.
Photo from Leonard's Draperies
As supplies become scarce across the country, local governments are looking for nontraditional ways to get supplies they need during the coronavirus pandemic.
The product most difficult to find? Masks.
So far, a boating canvas business in Anne Arundel County and a draperies manufacturer in Prince George’s County have answered the call for help from Montgomery County.
Christine Germann, owner of boating canvas business Canvas Connection in Tracys Landing, said she heard of the need for more medical supplies across the state and wanted to help.
Because she already had most of the materials needed for masks, she started creating different designs.
“I knew there was a need and I knew I could help with a service,” she said. “We’re already set up to fabricate things.”
The county picked up 400 masks from her on Friday. She expects to provide 500 more every week for eight weeks. She’s also working on a prototype for face shields.
Germann said she connected with the county after she saw a news report of Miscellaneous Distillery in Mount Airy distilling alcohol to be turned into hand sanitizer. The distillery is one of six distilleries and wineries providing alcohol to the county for Gaithersburg’s Vashan Compounding Pharmacy to turn into hand sanitizer.
Germann said she called the distillery and was given contact information for Montgomery County.
Germann, her staff, and a team of volunteers are working on the masks for the county, local businesses, and any family and friends who need them.
Montgomery County’s procurement office is purchasing the masks at $6 each.
“Elastic is becoming scarce, but we still have vendors that were able to get [it in] bulk,” Germann said. “We’ll continue to keep things on back order so we can continue to make them in case we run out [of supplies].”
During the pandemic, anyone can make a difference by stepping up to help, she said.
“As Americans, we’re all in this together and it takes just a little shop like mine to make a difference, even though I’m not a big corporation or have a huge facility,” she said. “We will continue producing until the need is not here anymore.”
Jamie Cooke, deputy director and chief operating officer for the county’s general services department, said the county is discussing mask production with a handful of local businesses. He declined to say which businesses until agreements are in place. One is a nonprofit that can create 3D-printed face shields.
Face masks are the most difficult to find, he said.
Cooke said he didn’t know when the other businesses would start making masks for the county.
“They’re doing time studies to figure out how many they can make. I’m thinking we can get anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 masks made locally [per week],” he said.
Cooke said the county is still purchasing supplies from larger domestic and international companies.
As far as how long the county’s current supply could last in the event of a surge, Cooke said it was difficult to know because it depended on how big the surge is.
Dr. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, told Bethesda Beat on March 27 that current supplies in the county would last about two to three weeks under a surge.
He said the county received a state shipment of supplies from the national stockpile on March 26. The national stockpile is the country’s largest collection of medical supplies for use in public health emergencies.
The shipments included 124,000 N95 masks and some personal protective equipment to be divided among the county’s six hospitals. It also included 15,000 N95 and surgical masks for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue.
Stoddard said that the county also has 15,000 N95 masks and surgical masks that will go to law enforcement officers.
Cooke said the state delivered another shipment of about 10,000 surgical masks on Friday and is expected to make another shipment of around 8,000 surgical masks on Saturday.
Although supply chains for medical and cleaning supplies have been challenged and slowed, Cooke said the county has been “pretty successful” in getting supplies it needs.
“We had the foresight of seeing what was coming and we started ordering supplies [in January],” he said. “I think we did a good job of getting supplies onboard. We go through a lot and we’ve continued to process supplies and expand the vendors that we’re using to give us as many sources as possible.”
The county has 3D printers in libraries and schools that could also be used to make masks, he said.
In addition to the masks, the county is producing about 300 gallons of hand sanitizer a week through partnerships with distilleries. Cooke said that production will increase to 500 gallons next week.
As far as the county’s budget for the emergency supplies, Cooke said there isn’t one —purchasing decisions are made on an individual basis.
“We look at the costs and we evaluate if it’s a good decision for the county. In an emergency situation, the evaluations are a bit different,” he said. “We’re tracking the costs down to the penny.”
When asked for the total amount that the county has spent on emergency supplies since January, Cooke said Friday afternoon that he would send it to Bethesda Beat, but he had not by Friday evening.
Leonard Taylor, project manager for Leonard’s Draperies in Beltsville, said the manufacturer knew it could make masks, so it started looking for businesses and government agencies that might need the supplies.
Taylor, a Kensington resident, said Montgomery County officials were the most responsive to the company’s offer.
“Right now, we’re in the prototype stage on fabrication and delivering samples of face masks for approval,” he said. “We have dozens of commercial-grade sewing machines. We have a diligent and nimble staff.”
The prototypes are three-layered, 100% cotton masks with fabric ties. They are washable and reusable.
Leonard’s Draperies has about 25 seamstresses working in the shop on both the masks and the company’s drapery orders. Taylor said he didn’t know yet how many masks the company could produce in a week.
“It’s easy and it’s time-involved [to make a mask] …. With my knowledge and coworkers’ knowledge of fabrics and fabric sources, it was easy to find the right materials domestically,” he said.
He said the time study of how long the masks would take to make needed to be completed before a price was set.
In the meantime, masks have already been made for all of the staff, as well as the delivery drivers who visit the warehouse.
Taylor said the company hopes to also provide face masks for first responders, local hospitals, and senior living communities. The manufacturer is already in the process of becoming a vendor for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
“We’re trying to protect as many people as we can,” he said.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.