Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus receives a shipment of protective items donated by outdoor retailers from DPS Skis manager Mike Cannon on May 18. The items were distributed to local businesses free of charge, city officials reported. [courtesy photo]

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the United States this spring, many industries slowed to a crawl and unemployment rates spiked. Many retail stores shut their doors and laid off employees, unsure of when they would be able to reopen, legally or ethically. Many outdoor equipment manufacturers did the same, but some Utah gear companies have found a niche by quickly adapting their systems to create personal protective equipment like masks and face shields.

Early on in the pandemic response, hospitals and other frontline workers started running into PPE shortages across the United States.

In late March, three Utah state legislators who are also physicians – Suzanne Harrison, Ray Ward and Stewart Barlow – issued an urgent appeal to companies to donate personal protective equipment to the Utah Coronavirus Task Force so that they could be distributed to medical professionals in need.

“In early April, we realized our existing manufacturing equipment could easily be set up to cut materials for clear plastic face shields,” said Alex Hunt, public relations manager for DPS Skis.

The company received an order from the Utah Department of Health for 80,000 face shields and quickly pivoted to fulfill the order, partnering with Utah companies Petzl, Goal Zero and the Eastman Machining Company.

DPS altered its manufacturing warehouse in Salt Lake City and the Eastman Machining Company donated additional tools to modify the factory to make face shields, not skis. Goal Zero, an outdoor electronics company best known for its portable solar panels, purchased the materials for the equipment and Petzl retrofitted headbands from its headlamps for the face shields.

Other Utah companies have been making non-medical grade face masks for retail settings, as fabric masks are increasingly required for people in public spaces.

Utah companies such as Black Diamond Equipment, Coalatree and Cotopaxi are also making non-medical grade masks for the general public and have mask donation initiatives to supply frontline workers and underserved communities. All three companies are based in Salt Lake City, and all three companies donate a mask to either community members in need or frontline workers every time somebody buys a mask.

The online retailer Backcountry, based in Park City, also donated 9,000 masks to New York City’s Department of Homelessness in April.

Making masks and other personal protective equipment hasn’t just benefitted the medical professionals, but also local governments and Utah residents.

In May, the City of Moab received a donation of protective equipment including face shields, buffs, hand sanitizer and masks for local businesses to use prior to a busy holiday.

“Almost all of us in the outdoor industry are friends of Moab – we often come down here to bike and hike and visit. So we decided we wanted to help,” said Mike Cannon, a manager at DPS Skis.

“We are so, so grateful to have this supply of PPE, especially as we head into Memorial Day weekend,” said Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus at the time. The region is now under a mandatory mask order for all public indoor and outdoor spaces where physical distancing is not practical.

“Having masks available for the employees required to wear them and the visitors wanting to wear them is critical,” she said.

Those who show any symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested at Moab Regional Hospital. The tests are covered by insurance and there is no charge for those without health insurance.

Tests for COVID-19 are now recommended for a those with one or more from the following list of symptoms: fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, chest pressure, headache, gastrointestinal distress (vomiting or diarrhea), sore throat, muscle aches, loss of taste of smell, frequent sneezing, and/or allergy symptoms.

To talk to a nurse about symptoms and schedule a test, call the Moab Regional Hospital COVID-19 hotline at 435-719-3998.

Utah manufacturers make masks, PPE