On March 17th, AFFOA issued a “Call to Action” to its membership seeking to activate a rapid response to produce and distribute N95 respirators and surgical facemasks to hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The goal was to quickly create domestic sources of supply to meet the critical needs of healthcare workers with a by partnering with members and other organizations to respond to PPE shortages.
This call spurred collaborations and initiatives across multiple fronts, and as a result of rapid mobilization, AFFOA’s network is already making a tangible impact protecting front-line health care workers.
The main highlights of AFFOA’s collaboration activities are summarized below.
- Securing domestic supply of N95 respirators. Thanks to Alpha Pro Tech, a Utah-based PPE manufacturer, AFFOA received 45,000 NIOSH certified N95 respirators this week and will be donating and distributing them to local healthcare facilities in MA. The timing of this could not be more impactful as the crisis is expected to peak in MA next week.
- Member Initiatives. AFFOA is proud to see so many of its Members pivot their operations and mobilize with us to respond to this crisis. A few examples include the PA Fabric Discovery Center, Kennon Products, New Balance, Ministry of Supply, and Nufabrx that have started to produce facemasks. 99Degrees Custom is also ramping up to produce isolation gowns at scale. North Carolina State University has ordered conversion machines to produce facemasks end-to-end, all within the last three weeks. The above is only a subset of the activities happening across the AFFOA network in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
- Augmenting supply of N95 respirators. AFFOA is working to map out the country’s N95 respirator and surgical mask supply chain to optimize production capacity. The goal of this effort is to identify opportunities where the nation’s domestic manufacturing capacity can be increased by either pairing non-traditional partners or by augmenting manufacturing equipment to produce needed materials and end products. These new connections will lead to additional production of N95 respirators while avoiding disruption of existing supply chains already prepared to ramp up production in the coming weeks.
- Providing leadership to Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (M-ERT). As part of AFFOA’s COVID-19 response, AFFOA is working with the Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (“M-ERT”), established on March 20, 2020 by the Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy, and led by AFFOA Board Member Ira Moskowitz and the Executive Director of MA Tech Collaborative, Carolyn A. Kirk. The mission of the M-ERT is to mobilize, organize and operationalize critical path work streams necessary for MA manufacturers to modify their operations to produce needed materials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to AFFOA, members of the response team include representatives from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML), Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP), Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), and multiple industry partners. As part of this effort, AFFOA is working with many of its Massachusetts’ Members including New Balance, 99Degrees, Ministry of Supply and others in support of their COVID-19 response manufacturing initiatives.
- Testing and Characterization of PPE. AFFOA is playing another critical role on the M-ERT by beginning the coordination of testing of newly developed PPE. Working with MIT, US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command –Soldier Center (“CCDC-SC”), UML and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, AFFOA is coordinating the testing and characterization of filter media used for respirators and surgical masks. These tests are intended to evaluate the quality of foreign sourced respirators (e.g. KN95s), the efficacy of various mask sterilization techniques, and provide preliminary performance results to researchers seeking to develop new filter media given the shortage of N95 filter media. AFFOA intends to expand the scope of testing to include tests for other fabric-based PPE, such as surgical gowns in the days and weeks ahead.