coronavirus

North Texas Factory Switches From Producing Furniture to Face Masks

The Leather Sofa Company in Lewisville is making face masks to help fill a critical gap in protective equipment

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The showroom at The Leather Furniture Company in Lewisville is quiet, but even though regular customer business is shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, the factory behind the showroom is busy.

“I think Monday was the worst day I’ve ever had in my life,” said factory owner Mitch Lurie, who had to make the tough decision to send his employees home.

After seeing local pleas for masks for doctors and nurses on social media, Lurie brought back as many employees as he could to get back to work. They’re not making sofas – they’ve now turned into a mask making machine, using all of the available sofa fabric materials.

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"I just felt like we needed to do something to give back," Lurie said. "So I said, 'OK, let's get to work! Let's see what we can do.'"

Health care workers across the country are worried about supply shortages to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

For example, a spokeswoman for Parkland Hospital said it could be out of masks in as little as three weeks, a drastic drop from normal times when the supply could last for three months. NBC 5 Investigates obtained an internal message to Parkland nurses, telling them what they “need to do” to “extend the life” of the much-needed N-95 masks.

But across North Texas, small but important efforts are underway to help, especially from local businesses.

Leather Sofa Company found a pattern online to make face masks.

A machine that would normally cut leather for sofas is instead mapping out the face mask pattern on black fabric and cutting it. The rest of the work is done by hand.

"They name it the 'Carlos,'" a worker named Carlos said laughing. He found the pattern. "It makes me feel good we made that product for someone that's going to need it."

The factory is able to make about 1,000 masks a day. The masks will be sent to Presbyterian Hospital's oncology department.

"Hopefully they realize they can do a job and feel safe doing their job," Lurie said. "It makes me feel like it's Christmas again, that we're able to give."

"We probably can do it another two days until we run out of supplies," Lurie said.

Lurie was able to get an "essential business" distinction to make the masks, help medical personal and keep about a dozen of his 40 workers employed for a bit.

"This is my family. These are people that have worked here 10, 12 years so I have to do everything I can do to help them and also help the community," Lurie said. "Everybody needs to help some right now, whether it's your neighbors, whether it's somebody from your church, somebody needs help. Give it to them."

After testing a prototype with a doctor, about 2,500 washable masks are now being sewn using all of the sofa fabric they have on hand. By Wednesday, the masks will be completed and will be distributed to health care workers across DFW.

This week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the state has placed an $80 million order for masks. Hundreds of thousands of new face masks are on the way to first responders and hospitals.

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