For Linda Phillips of Doyle Sailmakers, the coronavirus pandemic has meant learning an entirely new skill.
The company is now producing face masks to help health care workers and patients shield themselves and others.
“We had most of what was needed in stock and it seemed like an opportunity to help,” she said. “What we didn’t have was the expertise to know and understand what makes a face mask effective.”
She set to work doing research on the internet, where she found a pattern. Then she reached out to medical professionals and government officials for advice.
“With some modification of the materials first chosen and the pattern, and some assistance from the ladies at Clover’s [fabric shop], we came up with a design we felt would be helpful,” she said.
Doyle is not the only business in the territory that has retooled in order to help. Virgin Islands companies that normally crank out products like scented lotions and alcoholic beverages — items meant to be used when times are good — are finding new purpose in offering products that fight against COVID-19, which was first confirmed in the territory last week.
Making a difference
Doyle’s resulting masks consist of durable cotton covers over polyethylene foam, which is used in some N95 masks (the preferred type for health care workers), with a malleable stainless steel nosepiece for a better fit.
Once manufactured, Ms. Phillips explained, they are being sprayed with a 75 percent alcohol solution to sterilise them before being packaged.
Although the masks haven’t been certified by a testing facility, she said, “We make no claims as to their effectiveness, but believe they have to be better than nothing.”
Through word of mouth and social media, the company sold 30 masks as of the Friday before last and has preorders for more than 100. The company has reached out to the police to allow some employees to come to work to continue making the masks, but the request was still pending as of last Monday.
“If anyone believes this is a moneymaking proposition for us, they are wrong,” Ms. Phillips explained. “The cost of the masks, at $5 each, does
not cover our labour costs, nor materials and overhead. We saw this as an opportunity to help the community given that we have materials, the facility, and a trained labour force to produce something that might actually make a difference in the fight against this virus in our community.”
An ‘increase in sales’
For Lenette Lewis, owner of Sageroots, selling hand sanitisers is a natural offshoot of her business selling plant-based health and beauty products, but now she has a renewed focus on helping keep the territory safe from the virus.
“There has definitely been a marked increase in sales and I have been filling orders for commercial spaces to ensure their customers can feel comfortable when entering their premises,” she said.
Other local companies have had similar ideas and either retooled or renewed their focus on sanitising products, such as EC Soap Co. and BVI Gin, which launched a hand sanitiser using 80 percent alcohol.
It’s made using an approved World Health Organisation formula and “is now ready for donation to the essential public service,” according to a social media post from the company.
According to Ms. Lewis, it’s important for businesses to do what they can for the community during this time.
“We’re hopeful that this trend of supporting local businesses will continue long after the COVID-19 crisis is over, as we continue to work to support our BVI economy and environment,” she said.