Sewing face masks

An Osprey employee sews face masks at the company’s Cortez headquarters. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Baxley/Osprey)

A number of businesses in the Four Corners have stepped up to make face masks and other supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s an effort that’s reminiscent of World Wars I and II…businesses modifying their production lines to make much-needed equipment during a time of crisis. In southwest Colorado, organizations ranging from quiltmakers to backpack manufacturers have quickly pivoted to create protective masks, gowns, and even ventilators.

At Cortez-based Osprey Packs, they made the move after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ordered non-essential businesses to close down to slow the coronavirus epidemic. They quickly transitioned their pack repair department to make masks.

Andrew Baxley, Osprey’s Warranty and Repair Manager, says the goal is to make and distribute about 100 masks a day. They started with Southwest Memorial Hospital and quickly found out there was an even greater need.

So far, they’ve managed to get about 300 masks out the door, with hopes to increase capacity. Baxley adds that the effort involved rallying about nine employees to make the masks. They also spread out across the entire facility to maintain social distance. But one of the biggest challenges was for Osprey to retool how they approach their work.

Another company that’s gone from making outdoor equipment to coronavirus supplies is Mancos-based Alpacka Raft. CEO and Co-Owner Thor Tingey admits they had to make a more drastic change in their manufacturing process. They’re mostly geared toward making hard materials for watercraft. But they had enough equipment could source certain materials that they found a way to help by making hospital gowns.

Durango’s MakerLab has a lot of specialized equipment, including from plasma cutters to 3D printers. They’ve been using it to make certain equipment for health care facilities. They’ve also been collaborating with Fort Lewis College and the company Soundtraxx to make the supplies at a large scale and get them distributed. But, as the Lab’s Executive Director Jeff Susor explains, the bigger effort they’ve been successful with is rallying more than 300 community volunteers to make supplies at home. Susor says it puts the emphasis more on the word “maker,” than on the word “lab.”

It’s also worth noting that in most cases, some of the staff at businesses like Alpacka and Osprey have been furloughed during the pandemic. Efforts to make vital supplies keep them on the job.

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Open Range News’ Mark Duggan is reporting on the impact of the coronavirus in the Four Corners region for KSUT Public Radio. The stories and audio here were previously aired and published by KSUT.


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