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Year in Review 2020: Local manufacturers, mask makers meet the challenge

From Bedford Industries to Fey Industries, and people operating sewing machines across the region, area's healthcare workers get much needed protective equipment.

Bedford Industries is poised to begin making more than 100,000 of these face shields each day, which it plans to distribute across the country in an effort to ease the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — From cloth face masks to clear plastic face shields, area residents and some local manufacturers stepped up in a big way to help address the need for personal protective equipment at the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Just as non-essential businesses were forced to temporarily close, Bedford Industries in Worthington brought its best and brightest minds together from production, research and development and design to develop a prototype face shield that could protect people from the virus. While it ended up with two prototypes — one resembling a traditional face mask, and the other a shield consisting of clear plastic that covered the entire face — it was the face shield that it focused their efforts on. The whole process, from conception to manufacturing, took 72 hours.

The company’s product, a latex-free product it called the ElastiShield, received the required registration from the federal Food and Drug Administration in an unusually speedy process.

Bedford Industries President Jay Milbrandt reported the company had the capacity to manufacture between 25,000 and 50,000 face shields per day to start, with the potential to increase production to more than 100,000 face shields per day.

Hospitals, health care providers and even the U.S. Army were among the early customers for the face shields.


Meanwhile, Edgerton-based Fey Industries also answered to the shortage of personal protective equipment. Workers there designed and mass-produced Preserve-A-Mask face shields, as well as medical protective isolation gowns.

President Mike Fey said it took one work day to develop the prototypes for the two items, and noted that both the face shields and gowns were designed to be reusable. Production lines were retrofitted to accommodate assembly of the items, shifts were expanded and laid off employees were rehired to meet the needs, Fey shared.

Meanwhile, it seemed anyone who could operate a sewing machine went to work making cloth face masks for medical professionals, residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities and anyone else in need.

Picket Fence owner Julie Dykema made more than 1,600 masks and, since her store was impacted by the temporary closure of non-essential businesses early on in the pandemic, the masks were sold by a neighboring business, The Daily Apple, and its sister business in Storm Lake, Iowa. Both shops continue to sell masks made by Dykema.

Dykema was one of several local business owners making and selling masks. There were also groups and individuals working on the effort.

In late April, Roxanne Hayenga reported she’d made at least 400 masks since the start of the pandemic. She used fabric and supplies she’d stashed away following the 2010 closure of her business, Textile Treasures.

“From start to finish, if I’m on a good roll, I can probably do nine to 10 an hour,” Hayenga said in the April 29 edition of The Globe. She also shared supplies with students at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School as they helped to meet a request from Osceola Regional Health Center for 3,000 masks.

In mid-May, The Globe reported that the 130-member cohort of the Sanford Worthington Medical Center Auxiliary had made more than 5,600 face masks in the previous two months. The masks went to local health care workers, Nobles County Public Health employees and clients and area long-term care facilities.


Crafty Corner Quilt and Sewing Shoppe in Worthington was acknowledged for its generous contributions of material and elastic for the masks, while Bedford Industries provided the bendable nose pieces.

Meanwhile, the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation received 400 KN95 masks, which were distributed to first responders in Nobles County.

In August, just as schools were about to bring students back to class, Bedford Industries announced a new product — youth-sized ElastiShield face shields designed to fit children ages kindergarten through college.

“We began receiving inquiries about youth face shield sizes almost immediately after we retooled our manufacturing lines to mass produce our standard ElastiShield,” said Katie Larson, vice president of sales at Bedford. “Inquiries have continued, especially in anticipation of sending kiddos back to classrooms. We’re so thrilled to now offer what folks have been asking for.”

Production of the small/medium and medium/large face shields began July 27.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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