As the pandemic has raged on, face masks are even more in demand. Here are three interesting projects helping to get masks onto the faces of Pittsburghers who need them.
Evon Onusic grew up near Johnstown in Portage, PA, and always felt connected to Pittsburgh. So when he developed a plan to bring medical-grade KN95 masks from China to the U.S., his first shipment of 2,000 last week went straight to Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh.
Onusic currently runs a Nashville-based tech startup called DeltaSift. He spent years in Silicon Valley, where he ran a successful company called Algo, which had a Pittsburgh office. He’s also a senior advisor at GSVlabs, which is opening an office in Pittsburgh. When the pandemic hit, Onusic spun out a new company from DeltaSift called Stay Safe.
“Stay Safe basically acquires reusable masks, which the public can then purchase, and we use those profits to acquire PPE (personal protective equipment),” explains Onusic. “They come from the same supply chain and same manufacturing. We’re working very diligently to bring it to the U.S. and do manufacturing on the U.S. side.”
The reusable masks, which are sold to the public, have a high filtration capability, roughly equivalent to the medical ones but they are non-medical, Onusic says. “We want to use those profits to then acquire medical masks, which we then donate to the health networks.”
The public can buy the reusable masks at staysafetech.com.
“We’re trying to get the volume (of sales) up in general, so we can help get the more important items, the critical ones beyond masks, which are containment gowns — which are impossible to find and incredibly expensive right now,” says Onusic.
Stay Safe has branding ideas for the masks that the public can buy. “The first partner was the Clemente Museum,” says Onusic. “We’re about to release ’21’ branded masks, for Clemente’s jersey.”
Finding good quality medical-grade KN95 masks has been quite a challenge.
“Altogether, my friends and family network here have a lot of relationships across the Chinese manufacturing system,” says Onusic. “We’ve spent several weeks hunting down factories that are able to produce high-quality and usable KN95s and N95s. There are a lot of counterfeits.”
Thousands more masks from Stay Safe are going to Altoona, State College and Philadelphia.
The Pittsburgh mask delivery was made possible with the help of Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
“There have been few people I have worked with who care more passionately about Pittsburgh,” says Reiman of Onusic, “and who is willing to leverage his own impressive network to our collective benefit.”
Free masks at police stations
Masks are needed now to do the most basic things, like go to the grocery store. But not everybody has access to them.
Now, thanks to a partnership between Pittsburgh-based medical relief agency Global Links and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, you can pick up a free mask from a newspaper box outside any Pittsburgh police station.
“It’s not about me and it’s not about you, it’s about all of us,” says Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. “It’s about all of us looking out for the health and safety of everybody else. So, we’ve partnered with Global Links to provide masks at all of our duty locations. It’s called Need a Mask, Take a Mask. Simply come grab one. When I get out of my car, I always have my mask.”
Global Links donated more than 10,000 masks to the project. The Tribune Review and Post-Gazette donated the newspaper boxes. Also, more than 1,500 masks will be distributed with grab and go lunches at Citiparks senior and recreation centers. These are not medical-grade masks, but they’re the cloth type that the public should be wearing.
“Our goal is to protect public health — particularly for vulnerable communities,” says Global Links Executive Director Angela Garcia. “And that has been scaling/growing since March 15, as we engage with more local manufacturers and vendors to produce masks and face shields so we can support local workforces while supplying as many organizations reaching our vulnerable neighbors as possible.”
Two million masks arrive at PIT
Two million N95-type masks from South Korea arrived early Monday morning at Pittsburgh International Airport.
They were then delivered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who will distribute them. The masks come from the South Korean government, as emergency assistance to the U.S.
The flight landed at 2 a.m. in a National Airlines B747-400F. It’s the third such flight from South Korea to land in Pittsburgh in the past two weeks.
“The secret we have at Pittsburgh International Airport is speed, whether it’s the short aircraft taxi time on the airfield, the time it takes to offload cargo, or to build up and break down the freight that goes on the trucks,” Bryan Dietz, the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s vice president of air service development, told Blue Sky News.
“A BIG thank you to ROK (Republic of Korea) and the Blue House (South Korea’s White House) for providing 2 million face masks to FEMA,” tweeted U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris. “Our alliance and friendship are as vital and ironclad today as it was 70 years ago.”