Utah mask manufacturer finds unexpected lifeline during COVID-19 surge

Jan 18, 2022, 10:42 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 4:25 pm

LINDON, Utah — A company that produces KN95 and 3-ply masks has found an unexpected lifeline in the COVID-19 surge, though its executives remain frustrated that hospitals and government contracts continue to go to Chinese manufacturers.

PuraVita Medical went into operation in July 2020 when it appeared the supply chain into the U.S. was “broken” for supplies like masks and other medical products, according to company president Paul Hickey.

“Everybody was looking for masks in the summer of 2020 because the supply chain broke and our phone was ringing off the hook,” Hickey explained. “By the time we got into production in November, the story had changed quite a bit.”

Hickey said mask production in China resumed, and hospitals and government agencies began again to buy from those suppliers.

“We literally had to shut down right after we started because we couldn’t sell our masks,” Hickey said. “We had to lay off 50 people who were up doing great. We were just kind of hanging on for the last year, trying to get our N95s approved, and selling a little here and there.”

Omicron emerged and fortunes suddenly changed for PuraVita.

“The other significant thing that happened is the CDC came out last week and recommended people wear N95s and KN95s, and we make one of the only KN95s made in the United States — almost all of them come from China,” Hickey said.

Retail interest from families and small businesses has provided a significant boost, Hickey said, but the obstacle of hospitals and government agencies continuing to buy marginally cheaper masks from China lingers, despite warnings about mask quality and even the potential for counterfeit masks.

“If the CDC is saying 60 percent of these are fake, if they’re not testing the Chinese masks that they’re ordering — batch testing them — they’re not protecting their frontline workers,” Hickey said.

While Hickey expressed gratitude for the support from the public in purchasing PuraVita Medical’s masks, which the company sells through its website in quantities of 20 or more, he ultimately hoped to find long-term clients in the healthcare industry — noting that COVID-19 cases will not always be as high as they are now.

“We just hope that the buyers and these hospitals and the CEOs of these hospitals are saying, ‘We need to support American companies so that we can be independent, instead of saving them a couple pennies by buying from China,’” Hickey said.

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Utah mask manufacturer finds unexpected lifeline during COVID-19 surge