Gabe Donohoe, lead sewer, works on creating face shields for people with hearing loss or deafness. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Gabe Donohoe, lead sewer, works on creating face shields for people with hearing loss or deafness. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Local mask-making company continues to grow

Their design is widely sought after for its specialized use

A local company, created to deal with the personal protective equipment shortage present at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, has expanded and stabilized as it pivots to providing masks for the deaf and other niche markets.

“We’re having more and more people come to us and say they want this product for things we never thought of,” said Hal Daugherty, founder and CEO of Rapid Response PPE. “The hospital ones will have the removable shrouds. The ones for kids will have the fun cartoon things.”

While the CDC advises that children under age 2 should not wear masks, these are not cloth masks in direct contact with the face, nor are they intended for children that young.

Daugherty stood the company up in March as an effort to create and donate PPE for first responders and medical personnel. With that mission accomplished, the organization moved into creating more designs and recovering costs incurred.

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire                                Shay McCormick, left, and Katie McCaffrey, work on preparing materials for use in face shields for people with hearing loss.

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire Shay McCormick, left, and Katie McCaffrey, work on preparing materials for use in face shields for people with hearing loss.

“Our goal here wasn’t to make money,” Daugherty said. “It was to do something good for the community.”

While the masks are now being sold, much of the cost went to offsetting Daugherty’s initial investment.

One of the biggest successes of that, face masks allowing deaf people and people with partial hearing loss to see the mouths of the speaker, was noticed by a number of forums for audiologists across the country. Word spread, and Rapid Response PPE was suddenly inundated with requests from groups across the country — and planet.

“When we first started, we must have had 500 emails,” said Deborah Rodriguez, HR manager for the company. “What we’ve done is every day, we have to check every email. Everything changes every day.”

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire                                Workers strive to fulfill orders for face shields for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing deaf people and people with hearing loss to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020.

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire Workers strive to fulfill orders for face shields for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing deaf people and people with hearing loss to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020.

The company started sending out international orders on Friday, sending orders to Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom. Demand in school districts, schools for the deaf, audiologists and others from Alaska to California to Texas to New York is also growing, Daugherty said.

“You hear stories like that,” Daugherty said. “We had one lady come in with tears in her eyes. She told me ‘I couldn’t hear, and now, I can.’”

According to Melissa McCormick, operations manager for the company, more than 6,000 of the face shields have gone out already. The masks went into production a little over two weeks ago, McCormick said.

Large cruises banned in Canada at least until Oct. 31

“What we’re finding out is a lot of school districts in the United States have contacted us,” Daugherty said. “It’s floor to ceiling with boxes every day. We can’t keep up.”

The shop employs local men and women, many of whom would otherwise be working in the tourist hospitality industry during the summer.

“I like working here. It was a good opportunity,” said Shay McCormick, a University of Alaska Anchorage student home for the summer. “It’s just a good thing that we’re all doing.”

Carl Ferlauto, left, and Hal Daugherty discuss the design for their face shield for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing people with hearing loss or deaf people to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Carl Ferlauto, left, and Hal Daugherty discuss the design for their face shield for people with hearing loss. Rapid Response PPE, founded at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, is creating specialized PPE, allowing people with hearing loss or deaf people to easily see the speaker’s face, May 29, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

McCormick had the idea to integrate leftover material into face shields intended for children, creating animal ears or fantasy elements such as fairy tiaras into the masks.

“I was just cutting out the foam and thought it’d look good and be a good idea,” McCormick said.

The company is also trying to donate masks and money to other local organizations where it can, including St. Vincent de Paul Juneau, Daugherty said. They’ve also worked to donate some PPE to residents of Pelican, Craig, Tenakee and Angoon, Daugherty said.

“We’re creating a product that’s helping people be safe,” Daugherty said. “We’re creating jobs where people come here to work. And we’re allowing people to go back to work.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in News

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. A medical director at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says the numbers of active COVID-19 cases that are variants of concern are higher than what has been publicly reported in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP
COVID at a glance for Thursday, April 15

These numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau… Continue reading

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Thursday, April 15, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

COVID at a glance for Wednesday, April 14

The most recent state and local numbers.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 14, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)
Alaska joins 15 other states in backing Alabama’s challenge to Census privacy tool

The case could go directly to the Supreme Court if appealed.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop up vaccinations site the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer)
CDC freeze on Johnson and Johnson vaccine sets clinics scrambling

The odds of being affected are vanishingly rare, but CDC says better safe than sorry.

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

Most Read