Pack repair is not an essential business under Colorado public health orders limiting commerce to slow down the coronavirus pandemic.
So Osprey Packs, in Cortez, got permission to adjust its repair shop to manufacture protective masks for the local health care industry.
In the Four Corners and nationwide, there is high demand for masks to protect health care workers on the front lines of the war against the fast-spreading COVID-19 virus.
At Osprey’s Cortez headquarters, a warranty and repair team armed with sewing machines usually mends damaged packs, but it has a new mission now, said Andrew Baxley, quality and repair manager.
“The main goal is to help the community. We knew there was a huge need for these health supplies,” he said.
So far, they have donated 312 protective masks to Southwest Memorial Hospital and the Montezuma County Health Department free of charge. The health department is distributing them to home health care and nursing homes in the area.
The next batch of Osprey masks will be donated to the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, New Mexico.
A staff of nine is producing 50 to 60 masks per day and hopes to make 100 a day. Each mask is sewn to withstand multiple washings.
“To preserve the health and safety of employees and mask recipients, we are following social distancing protocols during production,” Baxley said.
The Cortez Quilt Co. has been volunteering time to help locate fabric and elastic suppliers meet demand for local mask makers, including Osprey and Dolores Mountain Quilters.
“When suppliers sold out, we went directly to manufacturers,” said Cortez Quilt Co. owner Todd King. “Being in a rural area, our health agencies are probably further down the list for extra masks from the government, so as a community we are working together to make sure our health workers have what they need.”
The Osprey warranty and repair staff plans to continue making masks for as long as necessary to protect the community, Baxley said.
The Osprey staff initially came up with a prototype and did a test run before the health order closed certain businesses. Southwest Health System helped to fine-tune the patterns for two types of masks.
The flu mask is similar to the N-95 model. It has a softer cotton liner, and a thicker more heavy-duty muslin fabric on the outside.
The surgical mask is in the shape of a rectangle with accordion-like folds, and is made out of just the heavy-duty muslin fabric.
Some employees cut out patterns from templates and bind the edges, others do the sewing on four machines, and others do the trim work and attachment of the loops.
Right now, Osprey’s focus is providing masks to regional health professionals and agencies dealing with patients. Requests have come in from all over the region and beyond.
If it weren’t for the special assignment in a health emergency, the Osprey workers might have been temporarily out of work.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that so many people have been forced out of their jobs,” said Tobie Baker, an Osprey Packs employee now sewing together masks. “My colleagues and I are extremely thankful that Osprey received essential health care status that allows us to manufacture the masks our first responders need in this crisis.”
Osprey Pack President Layne Rigney secured the exemption for mask production from Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, which ordered that closed noncritical businesses, including outdoor gear manufacturing, as a way to limit the spread of the virus.
“We were ramping up to do this, fabric was coming in, and we had test runs for a prototype, so we were able to hit the ground running when we got the state blessing for essential work,” Baxley said. “The repair team has been amazing, and the health agencies have been beyond grateful.”
Just as factories during the World Wars adjusted operations to support battle efforts, so has Osprey in this war against highly infectious and deadly disease. They want to inspire others to do the same.
“Whether you are an individual or a brand, we hope our efforts inspire you to join us in supporting health care workers in your respective communities,” states an Osprey press release. “Go ahead and dust off that sewing machine and those Home-Ec skills — we’re all in this together.”