Many people may not know the state of Utah is making 2 million protective masks available to residents free of charge. And what’s more, about 230,000 of those masks have been produced in Cache Valley.
Two local companies, Quilt EZ and Walt USA, have been churning out the masks at a brisk pace over the past month and a half, a project that has allowed them to keep more than 150 local residents employed through the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, for Walt USA — the company many locals more commonly know by its retail store name, All About Socks — the project has led to several other mask contracts with cities around the country and an independent effort to distribute free masks where needed.
“We’ve been doing a lot of community outreach, donating a lot of masks to organizations here in Cache Valley and also in Salt Lake City,” company spokeswoman Jocelin Ong said.
With a Logan factory set up to produce socks and other apparel, Walt USA was uniquely suited for inclusion in the mask-production program, dubbed “A Mask for Every Utahn,” and the facility added a 3D sew-and-cut machine to enhance the process. The other Cache Valley company, Quilt EZ, also had the right equipment for the job with its expertise in producing robotic controls for long-arm quilting machines.
To produce 110,000 masks, Quilt EZ took on about 90 full-time, temporary workers operating 14 quilting machines and working two daily shifts in the basement of Bernina Stylish Fabrics in downtown Logan. The company made the arrangement with Bernina because it did not have room at its 600 West facility to accommodate a production line that large and maintain social distancing.
Quilt EZ’s last 3,000 masks were completed on Saturday, and company CEO John Hawkes said although the project offered no profit to speak of, it was very satisfying from a community-service perspective.
“One of the things that we’re kind of proud about is that this was a program through the governor’s office,” Hawkes said. “They needed all these masks done in roughly 30 to 45 days, and we were able to do our part and accomplish that.”
Rachael Lantz, who got on as a temporary line worker for Quilt EZ but was soon promoted to project lead, also came away with a sense of fulfillment.
“I work in hospice as my career, and I’m a high-risk patient myself, so I couldn’t go and help the people that I normally help,” Lantz said. “I thought, I’ve got to be used somewhere, I have to do something, so this fills that gap.”
Hawkes said he hopes the project will lead to another mask contract for Quilt EZ, but he was quick to add if this does happen, the company will find another place to operate since the influx of temporary workers caused some parking headaches for other businesses downtown.
Funded through a federal coronavirus relief grant, A Mask for Every Utahn was launched by the Utah governor’s office in April as the state’s coronavirus risk level was being downgraded from “Orange” to “Yellow.” It was intended as both a source of masks for those in need and a way to help keep Utahns employed amid widespread virus-related layoffs.
The Utah Manufacturers Association helped the state line up 18 companies for mask-production contracts. Another participating company that employs many Cache Valley workers was Autoliv in Tremonton.
Completion of the project comes as masks have become a hot topic in Utah — much like other parts of the country — sparked by recent spikes in coronavirus cases. On Tuesday, a coalition of health-care providers launched a campaign called “Mask Up Utah,” urging all residents to wear face coverings in public to help stem the spread of the virus and prevent overtaxing of the health-care system.
The coalition includes the Utah Hospital Association, Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health, MountainStar Healthcare and Steward Healthcare. Logan Regional Hospital is owned by Intermountain and Cache Valley Hospital is owned by MountainStar.
An order form for receiving up to six free masks is available at coronavirus.utah.gov. Instructions on the website specify that only those unable to afford masks or obtain them elsewhere should apply.
The masks produced by each company in the state project are all slightly different but follow guidelines set down by the Utah Department of Health for non-medical grade masks. Walt USA’s Ong talked enthusiastically about the mask design developed by her company, which features three-layers of fabric in a waterproof “sandwich” design.
“They have an outer layer made out of tight-knit polyester, so there’s very little chance for any microbes or liquid particulates to enter,” she said, “and we also developed a melt-blown fiber with a 3-D cut so it can fit perfectly into the mask. Then the inner layer is cotton, which is very breathable and really comfortable for the wearer.”
In addition to its donations and contribution to the state program, Walt USA is selling its new masks at the All About Socks outlet in North Logan.