Businesses that normally make underwear are among those pivoting almost seamlessly to make protective face masks during the coronavirus crisis.

Parkdale Mills Inc., one of America’s largest yarn spinners, has formed a coalition with eight other companies, including Fruit of the Loom and Hanesbrands, to produce 10 million face masks a week for health care workers and others, the National Council of Textile Organizations says. 

Parkdale Mills, founded in 1916 and based in Gastonia, North Carolina, touts a vision that “revolves around a perpetually changing supply chain that demands faster response, superior service, and enhanced speed to market.” 

That vision of “enhanced speed to market” is being put to the test under Parkdale Mills President and CEO Anderson Warlick. 

“Dr. Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, worked with the coalition and helped expedite the production of these masks,” the National Council of Textile Organizations said in a press release.

With help from the White House to cut red tape quickly, manufacturing of the face masks has begun and Parkdale Mills hopes the companies will hit the production goal of 10 million masks a week within a month. 

“This is … a time of crisis that many people have not seen since the time of the world wars, Vietnam, you know, situations like that,” a Parkdale Mills spokesman said in a phone interview with The Daily Signal. “And [in] these times, there is a call to action. Who is going to step up and supply a need and do the right thing? We are trying to do the best we can to do what we can for the country.” 

Shortages of face masks have prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release special instructions for nurses and other medical personnel who may be forced to create homemade masks due to the limited supply. 

“In settings where face masks are not available, HCP [health care personnel] might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort,” the CDC stated on its website.  

The National Council of Textile Organizations had urged the government to allow textile manufacturing to be considered “essential” work during the coronavirus pandemic and to exempt related employees from “shelter in place” orders. 

“Our members make a broad range of inputs and finished products used in an array of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical nonwoven/textile supplies, including surgical gowns, face masks, antibacterial wipes, lab coats, blood pressure cuffs, cotton swabs and hazmat suits,” the textile council said in a March 19 press release.

“These items are vital to the government’s effort to ramp up emergency production of these critical supplies.”