Colorado officials have begun urging residents to wear masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. At the same time, a shortage of manufactured face masks affecting healthcare workers, first responders and individuals has created a need for alternative ways to produce masks.

Beginning March 30, Melanzana owner and operator Fritz Howard shifted his store’s operations to manufacturing masks for healthcare workers and first responders locally and regionally.

As Howard watched the homemade mask movement grow, he said it gave him the idea to develop and start producing an effective design that he and his staff could produce at the outdoor clothing retailer’s temporarily closed shop.

Howard consulted with medical professionals and started working with Saint Vincent Hospital (SVH) to design, test, and distribute the masks to essential workers who are likely to come in contact with the virus.

The masks are made with two layers of surgical wrap, a material generally used in other medical applications, that the hospital and Melanzana have repurposed.

Ten employees at a time have been allowed back into the production room at Melanzana, which, until the mask-making effort, had been closed indefinitely to limit the spread of COVID-19 among employees and the public.

Working with a skeleton crew, Howard projects the group can make as many as 1,000 masks each day. They have committed to providing SVH and Vail Health Hospital with at least 10,000 masks, Howard said.

“We feel really lucky to be able to have this to do while regular production is shut down,” he said.

The crew, split into two shifts, receives the material from Saint Vincent, cuts templates according to the design, sews the masks, and distributes them to Saint Vincent and Vail Health Hospital.

After sterilizing the masks in their steam autoclave, SVH distributes the masks to medical personnel and first responders in Leadville and Lake County.

While Melanzana is producing masks strictly for essential personnel like first responders and medical professionals, homemade masks are being designed and distributed across the state.

At the end of March, coloradomaskproject.com was launched and later promoted by Governor Jared Polis. Following a Friday press conference, Polis urged Coloradans to start wearing masks during their day-to-day activities.

The website provides resources for mask designs, material suggestions, information about how homemade masks can help limit the spread of coronavirus, and incentives for people to sew and donate masks.

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