With Masks in Short Supply, Local Companies Start Sewing

Sonia Smith-Kang posted a call out on Facebook announcing her boutique children's clothing business in downtown Los Angeles was pivoting to designing masks to help protect first responders. The next morning she had nearly 400 orders and pleas for more.


The inspiration to alter her business came from conversations with her husband, a doctor who works in the intensive care unit at Dignity Health - Northridge Hospital Medical Center. "When he would come home, he said 'there's a shortage of masks," said Smith-Kang, a former nurse and founder of Mixed Up Clothing, which makes clothes that draw on cultural themes. "This really validated what we were hearing."

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday on Twitter that although the state has delivered masks, his office is still scrambling.

"California has distributed 24.5 million N95 masks. We have now ordered 100 million new masks. But it isn't enough. We're working around the clock to secure the personal protective equipment needed for those on the frontlines of #COVID19," he said.

With masks and other supplies becoming scarcer to health care professionals, Los Angeles officials earlier this week called on manufacturers to convert their operations to provide needed products from masks and gloves to swabs. Several have already stepped up including SpaceX. Santa Monica-based Figs, which produces scrubs, said Wednesday that it would be donating 30,000 sets to hospitals. And there's a slew more of sewers and other groups preparing masks.

Smith-Kang said she can only produce about 1,000 masks a day but she wanted to do what she could. The masks come in two different patterns, one with a beak for the nose and the other rectangular. All follow guidelines for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and have a pocket for filters. Individuals can buy one and the second will be donated.

The change in her business has been a relief. Smith-Kang has been able to bring back sewing contractors she released earlier this month. So far, she's had almost 800 orders and pleas from nurses to get masks.

"If I can do anything, I am going to do it," she said.

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Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.

Today:

  • Amazon Warehouse Worker in L.A. Tests Positive, As Company Struggles with Covid-19
  • USC Shows (and Ranks) L.A. Neighborhoods With COVID-19 Cases
  • Gov. Newsom to small businesses: "Let's get ahead of the queue"
  • L.A. County records 78 deaths, cases top 4,000
  • Patrick Soon-Shiong wants to buy shuttered hospital, convert to COVID-19 command center
  • Disney announces furloughs amid pandemic, but employees keep healthcare
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At least 30 of the fulfillment centers that power Amazon's e-commerce business have outbreaks of COVID-19, according to news reports and employee accounts. The most recent case in Los Angeles was reported Wednesday, when Amazon confirmed to City News Service that an employee at their warehouse in Atwater Village has tested positive for COVID-19. The mounting cases are sparking walkouts, frustration, and an unprecedented challenge for a tech company that finds itself at the center of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Los Angeles locals have always known it is a city of neighborhoods, but this novel coronavirus has made that especially clear. The official lines on where neighborhoods begin and end, and where cases are to be found, have never seemed so murky.

On Thursday, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering released two new COVID-19 data visualizations that aim to make at least where known COVID-19 cases are being found, a little more clear.

The first is an interactive map with reported cases that's broken down by each neighborhood with accompanying statistics that tells people where cases are, how many are out there, and how their neighborhood ranks.

The visualized data is not a complete picture of all COVID-19 cases as testing has thus far been very limited. The data also doesn't break up or provide the total numbers of those tested per region.

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