Medical personal protective equipment (PPE) is in short supply nationwide due to a surge of COVID-19 patients. Companies have shifted production to make equipment for the crisis, and individuals are stepping up to sew homemade masks.
One community highly equipped to help meet this need is the Amish.
Leaders in Ohio’s Amish country said they have the capacity to manufacture mass quantities of protective gear. John Miller, president of medical manufacturer SUPERB Industries in Sugarcreek, said business owners and community members are banding together.
“I got the idea, literally last Friday, to harness the resources of our community,” he said.
Over the past week, Miller put together a coalition of businesses in the area to manufacture equipment such as N95 mask covers, medical gowns and boot covers made from Tyvek house wrap.
Businesses participating in the project are located in the Amish settlement that stretches across Holmes, Tuscarawas, Wayne and Coshocton counties. Holmes County is home to the second largest population of Amish citizens in the country.
Companies involved include manufacturers such as Keim in Charm, which is supplying Tyvek.
“It’s a really unique collaboration here,” said Jim Smucker, president of Keim. “That’s the spirit of our community. It’s a very much service-oriented community.”
Some of the sewing is taking place outside of companies and in Amish households. Miller said Amish women in the community have the capacity to make thousands of garments inside their own homes.
“The capacity is sitting there, latent in the community,” he said. “The Amish still sew their own garments. They have a fully equipped sewing machine. That's just part of the culture."
He said he spoke with church leaders to spread the word to citizens in the community.
"What we can do is go out in this emergency situation and activate all that," he said.
He estimates there are at least 5,400 homes in the area with sewing capabilities.
“When I met with the Amish leaders to make sure they were on board with this, they told me that I’m underestimating the capacity,” he said. “There are actually over 10,000 ladies that could be mobilized to support this effort.”
Miller said so far, they’ve developed four different products for sale online. They’ve already received calls and orders from hospitals and clients from several states.
"We have the capacity to make hundreds of thousands of these products a week, at full scale," he said.
He said a challenge will be having enough material should the project achieve that demand.
The protective gear is not FDA approved, but they are working with local public health officials to follow appropriate production guidelines.