Idle Businesses Send Safety Gear to Hospitals

No matter your industry, your PPE backstock could make a big difference to medical professionals right now.

A load of N95 masks and other supplies are delivered to Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital.
A load of N95 masks and other supplies are delivered to Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital.

No matter what industry you work in, check out what PPE you have on hand because it's needed now more than ever.

On Thursday night, Los Angeles health officials implemented a "Safer at Home" order, which shut down all nonessential social and professional activities. Similar restrictions are being implemented around the United States and much of the world. 

In LA, the order means any nonessential businesses that require workers onsite must halt operations — that's about 10 million people ordered to stay home. 

The quarantine measures have many wondering what more they can do. For some businesses that suddenly find themselves shut down, it's as simple as looking in the supply closet. 

Lindsay Skinner is the owner of Lucid Studios, which, on a normal day, would be using molding, casting, lighting, and 3D printing to make specialty costumes, props, and make-up effects for the entertainment industry. For example, the company made the light-up ballerina costumes for Lizzo's 2020 grammy performance, as well as the futuristic jumpsuit worn by Lil Nas X in his "Panini" music video.

Skinner was closing up the Lucid shop tonight when she noticed a few extra N95 masks. The company works with a lot of solvents and dust, and employees use N95 masks every day. Before the shutdown, many companies had been working with an already dwindling stock of protective gear, given the increased global demand. 

"I thought, 'if we have a few, others might have some too," Skinner said. "Medical professionals need them a hell of a lot more than we do."

Skinner put out a call to the FX community on social media looking for N95 or dust masks as well as nitrile or vinyl gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE). 

The community answered in a big way. Within two hours, Skinner had dropped off 300 N95 masks and other supplies at Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital.  

A bulk of the donations came from Frank Ippolito, owner of Thingergy, a company that makes everything from giant robots to custom props for the entertainment industry. 

"Our industry is shut down," said Ippolito. "Movies and TV productions have all been put on hiatus, pushed or canceled… we are all essentially out of work for the near future. I can't pay my employees, rent or overhead, as any "rainy day" money is all getting exhausted fast. We're a small business; there's not much we can do. But, what we can do is donate our PPE to people that need it to survive."

The masks, such as the Uline N95 Industrial Respirators Thingergy donated, cost about $15 per 10-count, according to the Uline website. They are also unavailable until April (at least). 

"By the time we get out of this and start getting jobs in again, we will hopefully be able to get new dust masks, but medical professionals need these things right now," Ippolito said. "My company could go to hell in a handbasket, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to do everything I can to help the greater good along the way."

Additional donations came in from Jesse Thaxton, an independent artist and Jim Ojala, owner of Ojala Productions

The PPE shortages are close to Skinner's heart because both of her parents are nurses in Idaho. Her mother works in urgent care, and her father works in surgical recovery, both are in their 60s. 

"[The COVID-19 crisis] is real, and it is genuinely going to change the world, let alone our niche industry," Skinner said. 

Next, Skinner is looking at other ways to tap the resources of an industry that is full of innovation and newly idled hands. 

Inspired by the story of the 3D-printed valves in Italy, she is looking for ways to repurpose the many 3D printers in effects shops to manufacture out-of-stock or parts in low supply. One initial hurdle is that the parts need to be printed in a sterile environment. 

According to Ippolito, he is working with international partners to get processes and materials approved.

Skinner is also looking for polypropylene material, such as reusable shopping bags, and finding ways to repurpose them as masks. "It's not ideal, but when the masks run out, it is effective," Skinner added. 

According to Business Insider, healthcare workers in Seattle are making face masks out of office supplies. 

Skinner added that California hospitals might soon need material (and people) to make hospital gowns. 

"My mother used to say that I'm only good in a crisis," Skinner said. "I just want to make our community and industry better … It's time to step up and help."

Many companies have PPE supplies on-hand and don't even realize it. 

"In my mind, they were just particulate masks for sanding at the shop, but [it] turns out they are the classification of masks that are severely needed right now," Ippolito said in a post. "I urge any other shops in town to check their masks and donate any PPE that they can. Now is the time!"

No matter what industry you work in, check out what you have on hand because it's needed now more than ever. 

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