OGDEN — The Business Depot Ogden is home to a major operation producing personal protective equipment for health-care workers and others in essential jobs.
Short on sales because of COVID-19 closures, WhiteClouds, a 3D printing and fabricating business, has shifted its production to make face shields, a form of personal protective equipment that’s currently in high demand.
“I think this will get us through this tough time,” said Jerry Ropelato, CEO of WhiteClouds, “We’ll probably go back to doing what we were doing (before COVID-19), and who knows — maybe this’ll be a little side division in the company. We don’t know that at this point.”
Business for WhiteClouds plummeted after mid-March, when trade shows like South By Southwest started canceling, Ropelato said.
“Our business is so dependent on that,” he said of the trade shows.
At the same time, the country was facing a shortage in personal protective equipment, like N95 masks and face shields — so WhiteClouds saw an opportunity to meet that community need and try to recoup some sales.
Face shields are used in situations when a mask might not be enough to protect a health-care worker — like when they’re placing a breathing tube, according to the WhiteClouds website.
During this procedure, a patient can cough, expelling saliva that could hit a providers face or eyes, exposing them to pathogens. While goggles and a mask can protect against this, they still leave areas of the face exposed — and goggles can’t be used with glasses.
Face shields are particularly important for providers treating COVID-19 because breathing tubes are required when people are put on ventilators, a key treatment for severe cases of the disease.
WhiteClouds is still selling some of its regular products, and they’re finishing up work they started prior to the pandemic, but most employees have shifted to making the shields, Ropelato said. The company is producing about 4,000 shields a day, he said.
About 70% of these orders are for health care settings, he said, while 30% have been purchased for use in industrial settings, like food production facilities.
In response to the request of a professional association, the company has also developed a special shield for orthodontists that allows them to use equipment with a magnifying lens while wearing the face shields, Ropelato said. The company will start producing that soon.
WhiteClouds has also produced face shields for the state of Utah, but state officials did not immediately respond to requests for more information about how those face shields will be used.
The state maintains a webpage at http://userve.utah.gov/ppe describing how members of the community can help with the shortage of personal protective equipment.
“Healthcare organizations throughout the state are in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure healthcare workers are protected as they respond to COVID-19,” the site says.
According to that page, the state is seeking “proposals from Utah manufacturers who may be able to divert production to support specific needs,” as WhiteClouds has done. The state is also seeking donations of supplies listed at http://userve.utah.gov/ppe.
Ropelato has had to add more staff — including 15 high schools students — in order to complete the incoming orders for face shields. As a long-time basketball coach, he reached out to some of his basketball players to see if any of them were interested in a job.
Sam Gibby, a junior at Weber High School, answered that call. He’s been coached by Ropelato since he was in fifth grade, he said.
“I saw the opportunity, and I jumped right on it — figured it’s a great way to make some money and do service for the community and the world, so I thought it was a really cool thing,” Gibby said.
Being able to go to work has eased the isolation of being at home, he said, and it’s allowed him to actively contribute to the COVID-19 response, rather than standing by.
“It’s something that none of us were expecting ... and we’re not prepared either as a country and as a health care community. We need to be prepared for things like this in the future,” Gibby said. “But it does help to know that there is something we can do at an individual level. I’m happy that I can provide help, too, and make a difference in protecting people.”