After several hectic weeks spent in global competition for protective equipment for health workers, the Vermont team assigned to assemble emergency supplies is relying on Vermont connections and Vermont manufacturers to build up its stores for the weeks and months ahead.

Half a million procedural medical masks were due to arrive Wednesday at the Morrisville loading dock of Concept2, the company that makes rowing machines and other athletic equipment. Concept2 used its own manufacturing connections in China to buy the masks. The company plans to give some masks to Copley Hospital in Morrisville and to local first responders and nursing homes before turning the rest over to the state Department of Public Safety.  

The state is working on a deal with JK Adams, the Dorset wood products manufacturer, which plans to produce 50,000 face shields per week if it gets the orders. 

Meanwhile, production started this week on 4,000 face shields at the Generator, a Burlington maker space that is using its own 3D printers and several borrowed from local manufacturers. The state recently also took delivery of 1,900 face shields made and donated by Revision Eyewear of Essex Junction. 

Of the several other personal protection equipment shipments expected in Vermont this week, most were obtained through Vermont connections, said Chris Cole, the state’s commissioner of buildings and general services, who is leading procurement efforts. In a sea of unsolicited offers, many suspicious-sounding, a tie to Vermont is one way to make sure the state is working with reputable suppliers, Cole said.

Concept2 got involved after the company started looking for ways to make face shields, said mechanical engineer Trevor Braun. With its customer base in quarantine, the company had quickly sold out of its supply of rowing machines and other workout gear, and due to stay-at-home orders issued in March, couldn’t make more.

Braun, who often works with overseas suppliers, reached out to distributors in China and elsewhere looking for a plastic material that would be of use to Concept2 in making protective masks for health care workers. His supplier offered a half-million procedural masks, the three-layer lightweight safety masks often used in operating rooms.

Braun said it became apparent to him that Concept2’s experience in handling customs and other paperwork, and its contacts in Asia, would be more helpful to the state than its manufacturing expertise.

“We have the supply chain set up to do this,” he said. “This is what we do every day all day, just instead of chains and sprockets, we’re bringing in masks.”

Concept2 is paying for the masks, which left Shanghai on Sunday and traveled through Anchorage and Cleveland on their way to Morrisville.

Concept2 doesn’t expect to buy any more masks, but is now lending its Asian supply chain expertise to the state as the state orders more PPE, Braun said.

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