Shortages of medical supplies such as protective masks, shields and other equipment have prompted at least two local industries to join the effort to combat COVID-19.
Gray Court-based Fibertex Nonwoves and Jostens in Laurens are both refocusing production lines to help lessen the shortfalls in medical equipment.
Fibertex Vice President Darryl Fournier said business as usual simply was no an option in the face of a pandemic.
“It could have been very easy if we deferred that to try to make sales,” Fournier said. “I spent (Thursday) working on the trial, and would have produced significant sales numbers for the material we could have produced. If we can contribute and be a part of this supply chain going forward, it’s just the right thing to do. We all agreed with that, and everybody has worked really hard to make it happen very quickly.”
Fibertex already produces material used for cleaning wipes and are now focusing material for disinfectant wipes, which are also not surprisingly in high demand.
The Gray Court plant is also working with its sister plant in Chicago to build new production lines to make the N95 masks need by medical professionals to help protect them from the novel coronavirus.
“We have facilities around the world and one of them uses nano-fibers – very small, tiny fibers that can be put on top of the material we make to get filtration efficiency for the N95 face masks that are in such high demand right now.”
Plans are to produce 1.5 million of the masks between the two plants and have them in the supply chain as soon as possible.
The company is also conducting trials using a less dense material that can be nano treated and produce nonwoven facemasks used in medical offices and hospitals.
“As soon as we get feed back, we’ll try to develop that in the next few weeks,” Fournier said.
The Jostens facility, which produced graduation regalia such as caps and gowns, is also changing lanes to produce surgical masks.
“We have experimented in the Laurens facility with some very limited production runs of non-certified reusable cloth surgical masks and are actively investigating production requirements and potential co-manufacturing partnerships,” said Jostens in a release. “Jostens will remain committed to protect and support the safety and health of our employees and communities throughout this crisis and we will continue to explore opportunities to further support our communities and the nation thru alternative production endeavors.”
Laurens County Development Corporation Director of Marketing Whitney Lagrange said the changes being made by the county’s industry are admirable.
“While this is such an unpredictable time for everyone trying to navigate unknown territory, it’s so great to see our local manufacturers using their experience and resources to shift production for the greater good in helping to fight this pandemic,” she said.