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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It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.

"Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.

Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.

Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.

"We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.

Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.

"You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.

The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and Core Laboratories prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.

Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.

"Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.

Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.

"We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.

Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.

"It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."

After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.

Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.

Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.

"As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."

Snap promoted executive Ben Schwerin to be its new senior vice president of content and partnerships, as the company seeks to grow its content business to challenge rival TikTok.

As part of the reorganization, Chief Strategy Officer Jared Grusd, who previously oversaw content, will become a strategic advisor to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

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As a casting director, Lacey Kaelani has a leading view on Hollywood's content pipeline. Based on what she's been seeing on her venture-backed casting platform, Casting Depot, prepare for a deluge of unscripted shows.

"It's all gonna be handheld videos where everything looks like a Zoom call," she said. "Dating shows, talk shows, food competition shows – that's what was cast and is going into production."

The Casting Depot launched its latest beta version on Friday, with a "six-figure" investment from global venture capital firm Antler. Its board includes leaders from companies including CAA, Airtime, iHeartMedia, WorkMarket and IAC.

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