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The COVID-19 crisis has led Janesville fabric mill Monterey Mills to pivot into production of a safety item officials say is in short supply: cloth face masks.

JANESVILLE

The COVID-19 crisis has mobilized Janesville fabric mill Monterey Mills to pivot quickly into producing a safety item officials say is in desperately short supply: cloth face masks.

Monterey Mills announced on its website this week that it has partnered with another Wisconsin company, Elder Flag, to produce cloth barrier masks that health care workers and others can use as they treat patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

The two companies have produced enough new masks to supply one Wisconsin regional health care system with an initial 20,000 masks, which Monterey Mills says are washable and reusable.

As one of the biggest producers of knitted-pile fabric in the U.S., Monterey Mills normally makes products for paint rollers, buffing pads, wash mitts, apparel and other cloths used in the medical field.

President Dan Synkin said in a statement this week that Monterey now has the “fabric inventory and manufacturing capacity to produce millions of masks” to help ease a national shortage of personal protective equipment.

The company’s partner, Oak Creek-based Elder Flag, has converted part of its flag-sewing operation to produce the masks, Monterey officials said. The two companies are now hunting for more “trim components” such as elastic and additional partners to cut and sew the masks.

A company spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on how operations at Monterey Mills are responding to the shift in production.

Phone calls to the company went to an auto message that indicated Monterey had long call wait times linked to its new foray into barrier masks.

Company officials say the masks are intended for “front-line” responders who have daily contact with those who could be infected with COVID-19. The disease has already infected hundreds of people—and possibly more—in Wisconsin.

The company said doctors have reviewed the design of the mask, which looks similar to a cloth surgical mask but with a soft, fleece-like nap and a conspicuous “Made in the USA” tag. They’re designed to be reversible so either side can protect wearers’ faces.

The masks are being marketed through a company ordering hotline and via website safeusamasks .com.

The company said it will give ordering priority to hospital and clinic operators, police agencies and “anyone working among the general public during these challenging times.”

The company has shifted production before during times of national need, including in 2010, when it geared the plant to produce wool fabric intended to soak up oil on beaches after BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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