The COVID-19 crisis has led Janesville fabric mill Monterey Mills to pivot into production of a safety item officials say is in short supply: cloth facemasks.

JANESVILLE — The COVID-19 crisis has mobilized a Janesville fabric mill to pivot quickly into producing a safety item officials say is in desperately short supply: cloth facemasks.

Monterey Mills has partnered with Eder Flag of Oak Creek to produce cloth barrier masks that health-care workers and others can use as they treat patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

The two companies have produced enough new masks to supply one Wisconsin regional health-care system with an initial 20,000 masks. The City of Milwaukee Health Department also has requested 2,500 masks, which will be donated, and Monterey Mills is following up with additional health systems in the region that have expressed an interest in the masks.

Organizations interested in ordering the masks should call 877-BLANKET (877-252-6538) or visit www.safeusamasks.com for more information. Priority will be given to health-care professionals, government agencies and professional services.

“It’s wonderful to have two companies in the region coming together to fill this need,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “Both companies are known for their quality products and I have no doubt these masks will be met with open arms by health care, law enforcement, and anyone working among the general public during these challenging times.”

As one of the biggest producers of knitted-pile fabric in the U.S., Monterey Mills usually makes products for paint rollers, buffing pads, wash mitts, apparel and other cloths used in the medical field. It also is a supplier of knitted pile fabric used in a variety of medical and air-filtration products.

President Dan Synkin said that Monterey now has the “fabric inventory and manufacturing capacity to produce millions of masks” to help ease the national shortage of personal protective equipment. He said the protective facemasks are designed to be washable and reversible so that either side can be used directly in front of the face. Doctors and other health-care professionals have reviewed the masks’ design and materials used in production.

“We’re combining air filtration and insulation fabrics, with a membrane liner to create a highly effective, comfortable respirator mask. The masks are designed to be re-useable, cleaned in an industrial or home washer, and available for multiple uses.” Sinykin said. These masks will be American made with all product and labor created here in the U.S. With calls coming in from all over the country, we’re ready now to start producing masks and to answer the call for help.

“Monterey Mills has the fabric inventory and manufacturing capacity to produce millions of masks,” Sinykin added, “but we are continuing to look for more trim components, like elastic, to boost supplies and for additional cut and sew partners to support Eder’s efforts.”

Eder Flag, the nation’s largest manufacturer of flags and flagpoles, has converted part of its flag-sewing operation to produce the masks, Monterey officials said. The two companies are hunting for more “trim components” such as elastic and additional partners to cut and sew the masks.

Company officials said the masks are intended for “front-line” responders who have daily contact with those who could be infected with COVID-19.

“Instead of sewing together the stars and stripes to make U.S. flags, we’re ready to help fill an urgent local and national need. We have the infrastructure and will take necessary steps with our workforce and facility to ramp up production of these masks to the best of our ability,” said Jodi Goglio, chief operating officer of Eder Flag. “We’re very familiar with Monterey Mills and it makes perfect sense for these two Wisconsin companies to collaborate on this project.”

The company said doctors have reviewed the design of the mask, which looks similar to a cloth surgical mask but with a soft, fleece-like nap and a conspicuous “Made in the USA” tag. They’re designed to be reversible so either side can protect wearers’ faces.

The masks are being marketed through a company-ordering hotline and via website safeusamasks.com.

The company said it will give ordering priority to hospital and clinic operators, police agencies and “anyone working among the general public during these challenging times.”

The company has shifted production before during times of national need, including in 2010, when it geared the plant to produce wool fabric intended to soak up oil on beaches after BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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