A start-up business in Camden is working on prototypes for a variety of protective masks, with a goal of starting production in a week or so.

There are many possible uses for the personal protective equipment, according to Michael Mullins, who has launched the Mid-Coast Pop Up PPE Factory on Mt. Battie Street in Camden. He is an entrepreneur with a background in managing business start up programs and affordable housing real estate development.

Shortages of personal protective equipment have become an issue nationwide as COVID-19 infection continues to spread in all 50 states.

Mullins said he has purchased filter fabric used in surgical masks and material is coming in every day. Getting the material is the hardest part, he said.

He said March 27 that he currently has "a core team of volunteers working on prototyping."

"We're hoping that by next week, we'll have sufficient material that we can make our first production masks," he said.

Ultimately, the plan is to produce products "based on the materials we have," Mullins said.

The pop-up factory will have 8 work stations set up, to provide for distancing between workers. People can clean their own space before they start, and when they leave, he explained.

Mullins would like to see the pop-up factory "reach the point where we are making 1,000 units per week."

Mullins sees the community support for producing masks and is accepting donations of materials and products. He will also connect with volunteers sewing masks at home.

"It's awesome that people want to be involved," he said. "I want to give people a way that they can make a contribution as a civic activity."

"If we can provide a safe environment they can come here and make a contribution."

Products and uses

The pop-up factory will make a cup-style respirator mask and a duckbill-style mask, Mullins said. Both of these offer full coverage, which means they make continuous contact with the skin.

Products will include two types of disposable masks and a face shield.

Another product will be a sewn cotton mask with a pocket for disposable filter fabric. The filter can be replaced and the mask can be washed daily, Mullen explained. There will also be sewn cotton masks in two styles, and he hopes to also make surgical gowns.

The products will be offered to health care facilities to use as they see fit and to individuals. The key is product labeling, Mullins explained. While he may seek certifications for products that takes significant time, he said.

Products will be correctly labeled, he said, and it will be clear if they are not certified, or sterilized. "Then the hospitals can see what the product is, and they decide how to use it," Mullins said. They can send the surgical gown to be sterilized or use it as they see fit, he said.

Uses for masks at health care facilities include providing them for personnel who are not usually given masks, such as radiologists, Mullins explained. Another use is at the door, to help stop spread illness as people who feel sick and are coughing are coming in to the facility. Still another is to cover masks health care providers are using.

The masks can be also be used by individuals for cleaning or working on projects. This could free up N95-type respirator masks sold in stores for others who need them, according to Mullins. Properly fitted N95 masks screen out small and large airborne particles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mid-Coast Pop Up PPE will sell items at cost that are made from materials Mullins is buying. Donated items he receives will be donated to health care providers, he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health certified N95 respirators reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne particles, from small particle aerosols to large droplets. They are tight-fitting respirators that filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, including large and small particles. Achieving an adequate seal to the face is essential.

Mullins said those interested in assisting Mid-Coast Pop Up Factory with donations or volunteering or spreading the word about the new enterprise can call 691-7291 or email midcoastpopupfactory@gmail.com or mullins01@gmail.com.