Congressman Doug Collins tours Gwinnett Co. plant making masks for COVID-19

Carolyn Ryan | CBS 46

As Georgia businesses get back to work, many are requiring their staff and their customers wear face masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19. Now, in addition to medical professionals needing masks, the general population does too.

The increased demand prompted a Gwinnett County healthcare company to shift its business model temporarily and begin manufacturing face masks, instead of post-surgical compression garments, as it has for the last 25 years. The Marena Group CEO, Dale Clendon says with elective surgeries on hold, the company saw another need rising, that they had the equipment and manpower to meet.

“When the world changed, we changed. We saw an opportunity to help people across America both in the clinical setting and in the community, and we started making special masks, non-surgical masks for use in the hospital and for people in the community,” said Clendon.

The Lawrenceville-based company reached out to U.S. Representative Doug Collins, to help expedite the approval process to begin manufacturing the masks. A short time later, the company was granted an FDA Emergency Use Authorization to immediately begin producing non-surgical, anti-bacterial masks in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

“We got involved, especially in the FDA process, to make sure everything is approved so they can get these products out. Our Washington office and our Gainseville office has been helping with that because we believe, just what Dale said, we believe that keeping business open and repurposing, protects our supply chain, but also protects Georgia jobs. That’s a win, win for everyone,” said Rep. Collins.

The Congressman stopped by the plant Wednesday morning to tour the facility and see how the operation was coming along. “Talk about a company that’s actually taken on the call of our President, and the governors, and others to make do in a situation,” said Collins. “It’s amazing. It speaks to the Georgia sprit and the American spirit.”

During the tour, Rep. Collins referenced the importance of keeping more of the supply chain for these types of items, here in America, especially as the demand continues to grow. “Right now in hair salons, beauty salons, as they open up, as businesses open back up over the next weeks and months, all over the country, they’re going to need this equipment,” said Collins.

Tony Caprella, a manager for Rudolph Foods, can attest to that need. His company makes pork rinds, and has 6 locations across the country, including in Gwinnett County. “We’ve made it mandatory company-wide, that everybody has to wear a mask,” said Caprella. Rudolph’s employees began making masks from home to help meet the need, but the company eventually placed a much larger order of 3,000 masks with an Ohio-based mask manufacturer. And Caprella says, even that won’t be enough. “Each one of our employees have been issued at least 4-5 masks. I believe we’re making another order for another 3,000 masks,” he said.

Meantime, The Marena Group CEO, Dale Clendon said his company has temporarily shifted 100% of its production to face masks. “We took our entire organization and we turned it around, in literally a couple weeks, and started making masks, we’ve even expanded our manufacturing in other places across the

U.S. because the demand is so tremendous,” he said. The company is cranking out 80,000 masks a week. And it plans to double that in the coming days, “…in fact, we’re building a second manufacturing plant at our second building, which is just a quarter mile away, and we’re going to hire 50 more people,” said Clendon. All 150 current employees have retained employment during the coronavirus crisis.

So far, the company has sold 400,000 of the resuable, antibertical, non-surgical PPE masks. They meet the criteria of the FDA guidance as a Class I medical device to be used by the general public and by health care professionals. Eventually, the company will resume manufacturing post-surgical compression garments, according to Clendon, but for now, they will continue to work to meet the increased demand, for face masks.