Central Coast businesses have been volunteering their labor to get 175,000 N95 masks with deteriorated straps in shape for use by Marian Regional Medical Center.
N95 masks are worn tightly on the face with elastic straps to filter out air particles as the wearers breathe, making them a crucial form of protective equipment for healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19.
While the governor's office had announced that some masks distributed for COVID-19 response from the state emergency supply cache last week would be expired, it was also stated that masks were kept in a climate-controlled environment to prevent the deterioration of straps.
Marian administrators enlisted the help of San Luis Obispo printing and mailing company Poor Richard's Press as well as Santa Maria airline seat producer Safran Seats to replace the straps, with repairs beginning last week.
Employees at both Poor Richard's Press and Safran Seats are wearing protective gear such as masks and gloves while repairing the N95 straps, with the total time for repair of the 175,000 masks expected to take several weeks.
Poor Richard's Press president Todd Ventura said he had reached out to Marian beforehand to offer production of cloth masks for hospital staff, which didn't end up working out, but then the hospital offered the company a new project after the broken masks were discovered.
Ventura said along with being able to help out local medical workers, the project has also been a blessing for his employees.
"It was great honestly, because when this whole [COVID-19] scare started up I had to furlough some employees, and when this arose I was able to bring those employees back," Ventura said.
Along with the work being labor-intensive, Ventura said it was initially difficult to find the appropriate elastic materials to retrofit the masks as many materials were sold out.
However, the company eventually found elastic that would allow for suitable production of the masks for health-care workers, he said.
Ventura said although the cloth part of the masks is in great shape, the state of the straps is similar to the state of rubber when it is left for too long in the sun.
"It's really obvious as we repair them what the issue is ... When you look at [the mask] it looks great, but as soon as you touch the straps they just snap," he said.
Poor Richard's Press began returning completed masks to Marian on Thursday, Ventura said.
Marian spokeswoman Sara San Juan said the hospital is extremely grateful for the help from the community.
"Marian Regional Medical Center continues to receive an outpouring of support from numerous local businesses," San Juan said. "Through community donations of labor to repair the masks, and supplemental funding by Marian Regional Medical Center to purchase the elastic, we are working cohesively to restore the masks for use."
In the meantime, Marian administrators said they have a sufficient amount of masks received from the county Public Health Department to meet the current need at the hospital.
County Public Health Department spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz said the county has not received any other reports of compromised personal protective equipment distributed to county clinics or hospitals.