YARMOUTH — Having manufactured and sold down bedding since 1973, Cuddledown has now gotten into the mask-making business.

The company, which has a manufacturing facility and offices on Yarmouth Junction and a retail store in Freeport, has produced about 500 masks since launching the effort last week. Cuddledown is donating the fabric masks to health care organizations primarily in Maine in order to aid medical caregivers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dedicating some of its resources to making the masks, composed of 100% cotton bedding fabrics, “was almost the entire company’s decision,” said Cuddledown President Norma Wilkins-Gross. “I started getting all of these emails saying, ‘hey, could we explore doing masks, is there something that we could do to help the community?'”

The timing was fortuitous, too.

“We were coming out of the winter season, which is one of our peak seasons in manufacturing of comforters,” allowing the company to free up capacity to make masks, she said.

Cuddledown doesn’t have the equipment to produce mass quantities, so “we’re actually … cutting them by hand individually, and sewing them individually,” Wilkins-Gross said. “It’s very labor-intensive, but we are just thrilled that we were at a point in time that we could do something like this.”

Every operator at the manufacturing facility is required to pass a sewing test; those who don’t have that skill are taught, she said.

Cuddledown, which aims to produce 150 masks a day, has so far sent them to Maine Medical Center, Southern Maine Health Care, Maine Veterans Home and Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as area grocery stores.

Maine organizations in need of masks, or looking for fabric to produce masks, are encouraged to contact Cuddledown Marketing Assistant Joe Ionta at [email protected].

The pandemic has forced Cuddledown to temporarily close its Freeport store to the public and move employees to the company’s call center. But Cuddledown is taking calls for questions and orders, and items can be purchased at cuddledown.com as well. The size of the company’s plant is large enough to allow for social distancing among the 12 people working there, Wilkins-Gross said.

Wilkins-Gross noted the masks are different from personal protective equipment like N95 respirator face masks – considered to be very effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus – which are in high demand. But the cotton masks will be there to support to medical staff should N95 or other medical-grade masks not be available.

“It’s more … for them to be able to stretch their resources,” Wilkins-Gross said. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll learn how to make PPEs one of these days,” she added with a laugh.

Cuddledown has also donated fabric to the Yarmouth Sewing Warriors, whose volunteers have so far made about 400 cloth face masks. Holly Allen, one of those volunteers, said she has “been making masks like crazy,” and received from Cuddledown “a huge box” of duvet covers and white sheeting fabric to make the masks.

Being a quilter, Allen already had a lot of fabric, “but being able to use the sheeting for a lining fabric … has been great,” she said.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Protection, cautioned in a recent press conference that cloth face coverings are “not so much masks, as they are cloth barriers that individuals might be able to wear.”

Such coverings “are not necessarily designed to protect you; what they are designed to do is protect other people from you,” Shah said. “… People who do not yet have symptoms of COVID-19 can quite readily pass it from one person to another. … The cloth face coverings are designed to minimize the chance that someone who doesn’t have symptoms could transmit it to someone else.”

They should be worn when people have to go somewhere that others outside their home are going to be, such as the grocery store, Shah explained. “These masks, these face coverings, are not in place of physical distancing requirements (of standing 6 feet from one another), they are in addition.”

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