Janesville Firm Making Millions of Masks
Monterey Mills pivots to making 65,000 masks per day for healthcare workers, others.
The company, headquartered in Janesville, operates the largest sliver knitting mill in North America: sliver knitting involves using special circular knitting machines by which fibers imitating fur are attached to the fabric. Much of what the company produces ends up on paint rollers and apparel products. “Most of the characters walking around Disney Land wear our fur fabric,” said Sinykin. He briefed the Greater Milwaukee Committee virtually on Monday morning about how the company changed directions.
Over the weekend of March 20th the company pivoted to making a reversible and washable face mask to address the shortage of personal protective equipment. “I knew we could answer the call,” he said.
Monterey partnered with Oak Creek-based Eder Flag, one of the company’s existing customers, to expand sewing capacity.
As the first prototype was being reviewed, an immediate user in need was found in the UW Health system’s hospitals and clinics.
More orders were quick to follow. Advocate Aurora Health Care placed a large order. Marshfield Clinic, the Milwaukee Veterans Affairs hospital and the recently-lauded Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers also submitted requests. The Milwaukee Health Department will receive 2,500 donated masks. Law enforcement agencies and other first responders are also receiving the masks.
“We started with one cut-and-sew operation producing about 1,000 per masks day and now we are producing about 65,000 masks per day,” said Sinykin.
It’s not only Wisconsin healthcare providers that are using the masks. “We are supplying fabric and masks all across the country,” he said.
He said the company strictly enforces social distancing measures for its own workforce and requires all employees to wear masks. Monterey Mills washes every employee’s mask and returns it to them daily. Sinykin said the company also follows up with every employee that calls in sick. “We currently have the lowest absenteeism we have had in the last 18 months,” he said.
The three-layer masks are not N95-certified, but can be paired with N95 masks to extend the life of the more difficult-to-find mask that blocks the transmission of COVID-19 completely. The Monterey Mills masks are available online for as little as $8 per mask.
Sinykin is also committing to donating the masks to those in need in Milwaukee, particularly residents of the 53205 and 53206 ZIP codes on the city’s north side. For every five masks purchased, the company intends to donate one. “At minimum we plan on donating 5,000 masks to the community,” he said.
Others Present Challenges, Opportunities
Sinykin was joined in the video briefing by Governor Tony Evers and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation head Missy Hughes as well as local leaders Dr. John R. Raymond, Sr. of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), Vicki Martin of Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and Gina Stilp of the Zilber Family Foundation.
Evers, in a brief appearance, said the state is making progress on COVID-19 and thanked the civic leaders for their patience and support. “We are continuing to see generally positive trends with our COVID-19 caseloads,” he said. “It’s important to remember first and foremost this is a health crisis.”
Hughes followed her boss and said both businesses and consumers must be prepared to live with prolonged social distancing practices. “The reality is that we are all in this together,” she said. “We have to figure out how to hold each other accountable in a Wisconsin way.”
She said Wisconsin businesses were awarded over $8 billion in the first round of the $350 billion federal Paycheck Protection Program, an average of $193,000 per business. She said other businesses must continue to work to submit applications as a second wave of funding is prepared to be released.
Dr. Raymond, president and CEO at MCW, gave a brief overview of testing data for the past two weeks and what can be expected in the foreseeable future. “It’s true we have made great progress,” said Raymond, noting an expansion in testing is a necessary improvement to fight the disease.
“Although there are serious supply chains issues for [personal protective equipment], you can see some improvement by a downward trend in the shortages of PPE in our region and Wisconsin,” Raymond said in presenting data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association.
But that doesn’t mean a return to normalcy is on the horizon. “We are going to be living with social distancing for the foreseeable future,” he said. Raymond said without a vaccine or treatment challenges will remain in reopening society.
Like many schools, MATC has moved to a pass-fail grade option, said Martin. It has moved over 1,600 classes online including those involving electrical and diesel engine work.
The college was awarded funding from the federal CARES Act and is required to give 50 percent of it to students in the form of grants of up to $500. “We have so many students in need we decided to exceed that amount,” she said. MATC will provide 75 percent of the funding directly to its students as it continues to chart its future.
“I think we are going to need to reinvent ourselves,” said Martin. “I don’t think we are ever going to be going back to the way we were.” A webpage is available on the university website with information about the grants and other COVID-19 changes.
Stilp provided an update on the philanthropic response to COVID-19. “One of the challenges in this work right now is there is so much need coming at us,” she said.
The foundation is providing grants of up to $25,000 to organizations it already has relationships with that are seeing a surge in demand. It is also allocating an additional $3 million to targeted support for basic needs, public health and small businesses.
The foundation and Stilp are part of a MKE Civic Response Team with other community leaders in an attempt to coordinate their efforts on supporting those with the greatest needs and more equitably and quickly responding to the crisis. She said a combined fund of more $10 million has been created.
“This is a time to take risks,” said Stilp of philanthropy. “There so are so many unknowns, but we can’t sit on the sidelines right now.”
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