A textile company in Metro Vancouver is stepping up by shifting its production to create much-needed masks for frontline healthcare workers across the country.
Coquitlam-based Novo Textiles normally creates consumer pillows, insert cushions, dog beds, and geotextiles, but it is now producing hospital equipment including wipeable medical pillows, protective bedding, and masks.
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Julie Zanatta, a spokesperson for the family-owned company, told Daily Hive in an email they will be producing up to 100,000 surgical masks per day using newly acquired machinery, with production beginning this week.
These surgical masks are made of non-woven polyester, with elastic straps for the ear loops and aluminum nose pieces.
They have already acquired the necessary manufacturing licence from Health Canada for the production of this Class 1 medical device.
When a second machine arrives at some point in the future, they could have a capacity to produce N95 respirator masks at a rate of up to 100,000 per day, effectively becoming the first company in Canada to produce this higher level of mask.
With both machines running to produce the two variants of masks, the company would create up to 200,000 masks per day for distribution across the country.
If their production numbers hold up, this is, in fact, a very big deal.
Currently, the Canadian healthcare system entirely depends on the importation of the respirators, as evident by the recent controversy and dire warnings over the United States’ short-lived ban on 3M sending their respirators to Canada.
To some extent, Novo Textiles’ production could potentially ease some of Canada’s dependence on mask imports.
“We already are in the textiles manufacturing business. It was a natural switch to be able to retool to masks, which use some of the same materials as our cushions, pillows, and dog beds,” said Zanatta, adding that planning began when the epidemic in China became quite apparent.
Without this shift into hospital equipment and especially the masks, Novo Textiles would be closed right now, and all of its employees would be out of work. Instead, they have spent the past few weeks preparing their equipment and manufacturing process, and conducting training.
“We are humbled by the amount of support and attention we are getting for doing what is right, for supporting Canadians and specifically the frontline healthcare workers that risk their lives everyday saving lives,” added Zanatta. “We are simply standing up and doing what we all should do right now which is to help others.”
What does 100,000 units of masks of each type mean for the Canadian healthcare system?
For context, a recent supply of 10,000 surgical masks and 5,000 N95 masks is expected to last Eagle Ridge Hospital, a non-coronavirus primary care facility in Port Moody, for about a month. This is a minor hospital with 150 beds, an emergency room, and ambulatory, long-term care, and acute care departments.
Over the weekend, when supplies were dangerously low, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said an arriving shipment of 500,000 N95 masks would be a week’s worth of supplies in the province’s healthcare system.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is expecting a shipment of 500,000 masks from 3M, and over the past few weeks about 5,000 Canadian companies volunteered to manufacture products to help fight COVID-19.
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Editor’s note: This article has been edited to emphasize that the machine for the N95 respirators has yet to arrive.