From Radiation-Proof Boxers to Silver-Lined Face Masks, an L.A. Company Pivots for the Pandemic

Lambs co-founder and CEO Arthur Menard de Calenge got an urgent message several weeks ago. A customer who also happens to be a doctor said the hospital he works at was completely out of N95 masks and had run out of surgical masks, too. Doctors were coming to work wearing whatever they could find to cover their faces — ski masks, a scarf, bandana, whatever.

The doctor had started creating homemade masks for himself with his sister, who would sew them, using a layer of Lambs' silver-lined "WaveStopper" fabric, along with a layer of sheets that have very dense knits.

Since silver has been shown in studies to have some antiviral properties, "this was the best homemade solution he could create," Menard de Calenge said, "and so he actually reached out to see if we could help in providing more fabric to create those homemade masks for other doctors and the hospital."


That's how a Santa Monica-based company that first started selling silver-lined boxer briefs to shield men's testicles from purported cell phone and Wi-Fi radiation repurposed its L.A. factory to produce non-medical grade masks to battle COVID-19. The company is one of a slew of businesses in Los Angeles and beyond that have repurposed what they are doing and pivoted to address the pandemic.

From Radiation-Proof Jocks to Silver-Lined Face Masks, an L.A. Company Pivots for the Pandemic assets.rebelmouse.io

Lambs — which now also sells silver-lined beanies, T-shirts and women's underwear — is offering reusable and washable face masks made to specs provided by Kaiser Permanente. It's also adding a lining of its "WaveStopper" fabric to the masks. The fabric contains 50% of "XSoft" silver fibers, and the masks have an inner pocket for those who want to add their own disposable filter.

Lambs uses silver for its "antiviral properties." The company cites medical studies that say the metal can help prevent the spread of viruses, though there hasn't been any testing that could prove its effectiveness in face coverings. The masks have not been FDA approved and aren't a substitute for an N95 surgical or procedural mask, Lambs said.

The Science Inc.-backed company began recalibrating its manufacturing to focus on masks just as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the "L.A. Protects initiative." The city is urging local manufacturers to make an estimated five million masks needed for essential workers over the next few weeks.

Lambs' masks are being sold for $18 and can also be donated to frontline workers in need. Essential workers can buy the masks at-cost for $10 online and employers can purchase them in bulk. Lambs says it will prioritize orders for essential workers.

Photo courtesy of Lambs

The company began deliveries last week, shipping out a couple thousand masks. Since then, Garcetti has issued an emergency order requiring all those who are working at or visiting an essential business to wear a face covering. Non-medical essential businesses can refuse to serve a person who is not wearing a face covering. And employers are required to provide face coverings to their employees or reimburse the employees for their cost.

To date, the company said it has "thousands of orders" and has hired two more workers to help ramp up production and shipping. Lambs is abiding by social distancing requirements at its factory, which is currently producing a little over 1,000 a week. It expects to get to 5,000 a week soon. With additional staff, if they can be safely fit into the space, Menard de Calenge said hitting 10,000 weekly could be possible.

As for the doctor who first messaged Lambs about help with making masks, he got the first ones off the production line.

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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."

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"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."

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