CAMDEN, Maine — A Rockland man is establishing a “pop-up” factory here to make personal protective equipment in an attempt to help the supply chain inundated with demand amid the spread of the coronavirus.
Michael Mullins doesn’t have a background in the production of medical equipment — his expertise is in real estate development — but he said he has the space to produce equipment and the desire to help in whatever way he can.
“I’ve got to be able to do something to help,” he said. “I thought of this as a way not only for me to help, but to give other people the opportunity to participate in a civic way.”
The small-scale not-for-profit operation, named Mid-Coast Pop-Up PPE Factory, hopes to have its prototypes for surgical-style masks and gowns designs solidified by the end of the week. Production could begin as early as next week.
Across Maine, home sewers have stepped up to their sewing machines to help make masks. While simple cotton masks are not medically recommended for preventing the spread of the virus, some feel they’re safer than nothing.
Through midcoast Maine Facebook groups, Mullins was able to assemble about two dozen volunteers for the project.
Kathleen Brown of Camden is the manager of Clementine, a fabric and sewing supply store in Rockland. She was interested in getting involved with Mullins’ pop-up factory because he was looking at ways to incorporate filter fabrics, rather than just basic cotton.
“I started seeing the mask movement, but I also saw a lot of controversy over the effectiveness of just two layers of cotton,” Brown said. “We started talking about how we could make masks that could be more effective, certainly not any replacement for N95 masks, but knowing there that there is a shortage.”
N95 refers to the respiratory-protective devices designed to fit closely to the face and provide more efficient filtration of airborne particles. There’s been a shortage of them during the COVID-19 pandemic as health care workers and others rely on them to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Currently there are six sewing stations set up in a building Mullins owns on Mount Battie Street. All workspaces are set up 6 feet apart from each other, and Mullins said those making the products will adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Gowns likely will make up the bulk of the operation’s production, Mullins said. They’ll be made from fabric and are intended for medical professionals to wear and discard.
The operation is accepting donated masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment to distribute to those who need them.
While pop-up is a term typically associated with restaurants or retail operations, Mullins felt a pop-up factory could provide an “intervention” and a way to start producing needed equipment quickly.
“I just want people to understand this isn’t forever,” he said.
Watch: What you need to know about handwashing during coronavirus